Meat Industry Fights
Stricter Mad Cow Regulations

By Lance Gay
Washington Times Record News
Proposed regulations aimed at limiting the spread of mad cow disease will require the federal government to devise ways of disposing of more than 1.5 trillion pounds of animal products, the meat industry says.
In letters to the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. meat industry argues that current regulations are sufficient to deal with the problem of mad cow disease in the United States. Further regulations, the industry argues, would not provide any added safety for consumers. Instead, landfills would be flooded with animal parts that would no longer have any market value.
Jeremy Russell, a spokesman for the National Meat Association, said the regulations would put some meat processors out of business.
"This could take what is a profit center for a company and turn it into a liability," he said.
Russell said about 45 percent of each animal is currently rendered into other products. Regulations prohibiting all brains and spinal cord would create a huge disposal problem, and food industry experts told the FDA that ways would have to be devised for handling almost 1.5 trillion pounds of offal currently turned into useful products. More than 37 million cattle are slaughtered for food in the United States each year.
Russell also questioned whether the proposed rules were based in science, noting that Harvard scientists who conducted a risk assessment concluded existing government regulations were sufficient to stop mad cow disease from spreading in the United States.
Consumer groups are lobbying the government to impose a complete ban on feeding materials that may harbor the protein that causes mad cow in other animals. They say that's the only way of stopping the spread of the disease in the United States.
Michael Hansen, a researcher at Consumers Union's Consumer Policy Institute, said the government promised tough new regulations after a case of mad cow was discovered in Washington state last December but is now backing away.
"You have to take strong actions," Hansen said, arguing the cases will multiply until regulations break the cycle of feeding animals to animals.
Hansen said some European countries have adopted even more stringent regulations in response to the mad cow outbreak that apparently started in England in the 1980s, including prohibiting the sale of meat on the bone - something U.S. agencies are not proposing.
Sue Jarrett, owner of a 3,000-acre, 150-head cattle farm in Wray, Colo., also agrees with the need for tougher regulations of the industry because she said they would protect the public. She said cattlemen should take the mad cow problem as a clear warning that they need to stop feeding animals to other animals, and treat cattle as herbivores.
Jarrett dismissed arguments by the meat industry that the new regulations are too expensive. "The big guys sure darn can afford it," she said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned cattle brains, small intestines and other parts of animals older than 30 months from animal feed and FDA-regulated cosmetics and drugs. But the agency is waiting to take further steps, saying it need for information.
Among 36 questions posed in an "Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture said they are considering whether to expand the ban to include cattle of all ages, whether to stop feeding cattle blood to calves and forbid feeding henhouse sweepings to cattle.
The industry estimates that a third of discarded cattle parts are made into poultry feed, a third into pet food, 15 percent into pig food, and the rest in other products.
Under current regulations, cattle brains and spinal cord of older cattle are not allowed in cattle feed but are allowed in feed for pets, chickens and pigs. Proponents of tougher regulations note that sweepings of chicken coops are fed to cattle and risky material could still get into cattle food by that route.
The National Grain and Feed Association called an expanded ban "draconian" and said it "could force a dramatic restructuring of an entire industry sector and impose adverse economic and environmental impacts that ultimately may prove to be unwarranted."
The organization noted the U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun an enhanced surveillance program testing 268,000 cattle for the presence of the mad cow protein, and will know by the end of 2005 if it is prevalent in the U.S. cattle herd.
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