How Many Mad Cow Scares Will It Take to Force the Government To Strengthen Its Regulations?

July 27, 2005

How Many Mad Cow Scares Will It Take to Force the Government To Strengthen Its Regulations?

Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Director, Public Citizen’s Food Program

It feels like just yesterday when we learned about the second U.S. case of mad cow disease, but already there is news that we have a possible third case. How many more cases will it take before our government closes the loopholes and strengthens our regulatory enforcement guidelines for mad cow disease?

Once again, we urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expand the parameters of the current “feed ban,” which still allows the use of cattle blood, waste from the floors of poultry houses, and processed restaurant and food plate waste to be fed to cattle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) needs to oversee the process of companies determining the age of cattle at slaughter and ban human consumption of spinal cord and other nervous system materials. 

Further, the USDA should maintain its ban on injured “downer” cows for human consumption. In recent months, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has indicated in at least two congressional hearings that he is considering relaxing the ban on downer cows because industry considers the ban problematic. This is a deviation from the “out of an abundance of caution” benchmark that the USDA has been using since the December 2003 mad cow case. And it is particularly inappropriate considering today’s announcement.

The USDA repeatedly claims its testing program is working because it is finding cows with mad cow disease. But due to the voluntary nature of this testing program, the private veterinarian who came forward with the possibly infected cow didn’t have to do so; he chose to do so. That is not good enough when it comes to protecting our food supply.

For every cow that is discovered, how many more lurk in our food supply system? We must do more to prevent mad cow disease in the first place.

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