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New Animal Feed Rules Still Leave Consumers at Risk for Mad Cow Disease

Oct. 4, 2005

New Animal Feed Rules Still Leave Consumers at Risk for Mad Cow Disease

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

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed regulations governing animal feed – critical to preventing the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – are still too weak to protect consumers. 

The proposed rules would ban the use of some cattle tissues in animal feed in an attempt to limit the potential for cross-contamination during feed production or the potential for transmitting BSE through mistakenly feeding cattle food intended for other animals. Specifically, the following would be banned: the brains and spinal cords of cattle over 30 months of age, the brains and spinal cords from cattle that have not been inspected and approved for human consumption, and all tissues from cattle that have not been inspected and approved for human consumption if the brain and spinal cord are not removed. But the FDA would still allow the brain and spinal cord from younger cattle, as well as other nervous system tissues from all cattle to be used in animal feed.   

This proposal does not live up to the promise the FDA made to American consumers on Jan. 26, 2004, when the agency announced that it was going to take immediate action to strengthen the firewalls against BSE. At the time, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson stated: “Small as the risk may already be, this is the time to make sure the public is protected to the greatest extent possible.” 

Almost two years after Thompson’s statement, gaping holes in the animal feed ban still exist. The current “feed ban,” which took effect in 1997, 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 new rules will not address these loopholes and will still allow the use of rendered cattle remains, including some nervous system tissues, in feed for hogs and poultry. Because hog and poultry remains can be put back into cattle feed, the pathways for the disease to spread will still exist.

The rules also fail to meet recommendations made by a team of international animal health experts in February 2004, after their investigation into the U.S. government’s response to the first U.S. case of BSE. The international team recommended a complete ban on the use of mammalian protein in cattle feed as a precaution against cross contamination. The team also called for a ban on the use of bovine specified risk materials (SRMs) in all animal feed. Instead, the proposed rules announced by the agency today address only some of the risk materials, ignoring the tonsils, eyes, small intestines and other tissues that are considered to be SRMs in cattle over 30 months old.

As recently as last month, former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford publicly stated that the agency was developing a rule that would parallel changes already under way in Canada, including a complete ban on SRMs in animal feed. Yet the proposal released today fails to meet this standard. 

Feed regulations that are truly protective of animal and public health must incorporate a ban on all bovine SRMs in all animal feed and end the exemptions for blood, plate waste and poultry litter. Until these changes are made by FDA, consumers will remain at risk.

The FDA’s new rules are available here.