Mad Cow - US Livestock Feed
Regulations Called 'Pathetic'
By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. livestock feed industry officials and regulators are under increasing pressure to make sure that U.S. feedstuffs, especially meat and bone meal, pose no chance of spreading mad cow disease in the United States.
Charles Schroeder, president of the U.S. National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said on Wednesday the NCBA had called a meeting for next Monday in Washington of U.S. feed and rendering industry officials and their regulators to discuss the need for absolute vigilance against the mad cow threat.
``We have made it clear to the feed industry and the renderers from the start of this situation that we have no tolerance for any slippage in compliance of those regulations,'' Schroeder said of reports of lax procedures at some feedmills.
``If there are folks that don't understand the seriousness of the situation, they need to be brought to understand that both by communication from the industry and if necessary by penalties from the regulatory authorities involved,'' he said.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials said this month that some feed mills and renderers -- companies that process animal carcasses and remains into industrial oils and fats including feeds -- were failing to meet adequate feed labeling and record-keeping requirements.
Critics Say U.S. Feed Oversight ``Pathetic''
Livestock feed containing meat and bone meal (MBM) is suspected as the agent that helped mad cow disease spread from Britain to the European continent. But MBM is still widely used in the U.S. as a protein feed, with some restrictions.
Meat and bone meal (MBM) from cattle, for example, cannot be fed back to cattle or other ruminants such as sheep or goats. But it is still used legally and widely in the U.S. poultry, hog and pet food industries. Likewise, MBM rendered from pork or chicken is legal as feed for cows.
Those rules, along with suspicion that any regulation and oversight will be imperfect in the feed ``mixing'' industry, have led some critics to spotlight MBM feed as a health risk.
Dr. Michael Hansen, a research associate with Consumers Union, said the U.S. regulations banning bovine meat and bone meal for cattle, implemented in 1997, were not strict enough.
``They're pathetic,'' he said in an interview. ``It's too little, way too late, and they're not implementing them well.''
The European Union this month banned the use of any type of meat and bone meal in animal feeds for at least six months.
The move aims to curb the spread of mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Scientists believe BSE is linked to new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans and may be transmitted through eating BSE-contaminated meat.
Given the potential health threat, critics like Hansen point to loopholes and inconsistencies in U.S. rules.
Current MBM restrictions, he said, still allow use of byproducts from animals contaminated with one of several diseases related to BSE, a group known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs.
``The way the regulations are written, an animal that is TSE positive can still be ground up, rendered, and actually fed to other animals,'' Hansen said. ``It just has to be labeled, 'Do not feed to cattle and other ruminants.'''
He said that's a danger because the animals that eat the feed could end up back in the cattle food chain. He also said scientists have not ruled out the possibility that some animal species may serve as ``silent carriers'' of TSEs, never showing any symptoms but still spreading the infection.
Hansen also said there was no way to know whether livestock producers were always following -- or even reading -- labels.
``The farmers can buy it. It's there in the feed stores,'' he said of cattle-based MBM. ``I haven't seen any data as to whether farmers are paying attention to this.''
Mbm Industry Alive And Well In The U.S.
The United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau records, produces about 350 million pounds of meat and bone meal every month. Census doesn't break down the percentage from cattle. About 280 million pounds a month ends up in the feed industry.
Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association, said the only MBM suitable for use in cattle feed would have to come from rendering at hog or poultry processing plants.
``The poultry industry is a big user of meat and bone meal,'' he said. ``There was some substitution when the (1997) ban went into place. It got shifted over to hogs and poultry, and some of the pig and poultry (MBM) got shifted into cattle.''
Because independent renderers that produce MBM generally do not segregate their raw material by species, the material they produce would be prohibited for use in cattle feed, Cook said.
Gary Weber of the NCBA said that unlike Europe, U.S. cattle feeders did not use MBM as a common additive even before the 1997 rules went into effect.
``We've never fed very much of it in cattle diets,'' he said. ''We have an abundant supply of other protein products. Two, these (MBM) products have always been in high demand for other species of animals and pet food. Three, the feeds that contain these products are fairly perishable. Four, cattle don't really like the taste of it.''

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