Mad Cow Feed Loopholes
Still Not Closed

By Donna Gordon Blankinship
Associated Press Writer
SEATTLE -- A year after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was reported, Sen. Maria Cantwell says the Food and Drug Administration still has not fulfilled its promise to tighten animal feed rules to help prevent future cases.
"The beef industry and other federal agencies have worked overtime to restore confidence in the world's safest beef supply, but the FDA has failed to act on its promise to close loopholes in the mad cow feed ban," Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a news release Tuesday.
Last January, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced new FDA proposals to close loopholes that allow cattle to be fed such things as cow blood, restaurant scraps and chicken litter. The rules, which have not been finalized or implemented, would also ban feed production facilities from using the same equipment to process feed for ruminants like cattle and for other animals. That practice can lead to cross-contamination of feed, Cantwell said.
Cantwell wants the FDA to implement the new rules because she believes they would help reduce the risk of exposing cattle to the proteins that cause mad cow, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.
But the FDA has changed directions in its mad cow regulation discussions since January, Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, told The Associated Press.
In February, an international review team made recommendations on how the United States should change its regulations to reduce the risk of mad cow disease. Sundlof said those recommendations did not include any of the new rules proposed in January. Instead, they focused on keeping high-risk cattle parts - brains, spinal cord and other nerve tissue - out of all animal feed.
High-risk cattle parts have been prohibited in cattle feed since 1997, but that doesn't prevent ranchers from feeding other animal feed to their cattle and potentially putting them at risk for mad cow.
Sundlof said his department thinks prohibiting high-risk cattle parts from all animal feed would have a greater effect than the January proposals, although those proposals could be implemented eventually.
The changes recommended by the international panel were open to public comment until August and now FDA officials are working on the wording of the proposed policy change. Sundlof said he could not estimate how long it would take for the final rule to be approved and implemented.
"Right now we don't have a firm timeline," he said. "We are working as hard as we can to write these regulations."
About 50 countries initially banned U.S. beef after the discovery of a single case of mad cow disease in a Holstein at a Mabton dairy farm in December 2003. The Mabton cow, which had been raised on a farm in Alberta, Canada, had been fed feed containing meat and bone meal as a calf. Many countries continue to ban U.S. beef.
Scientists believe people who eat beef from infected cows can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain-wasting disease that has been detected in about 150 people worldwide. No human cases have been traced to U.S. beef.
In a letter to Thompson dated Tuesday, Cantwell encouraged the FDA to "move beyond your 'tentative' conclusions and implement a comprehensive animal feed ban in weeks rather than years."
In addition to urging the FDA to enact the new rules, Cantwell last February introduced a bill that would ban "specified risk materials," including bovine spinal and brain tissue, from all animal feed, including pet food.
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