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USDA’s Mad Cow Rule Changes Don?t Go Far Enough to Protect Public

Dec. 31, 2003

USDA’s Mad Cow Rule Changes Don’t Go Far Enough to Protect Public


Statement by Rodney Leonard, executive director, Community
Nutrition Institute; Felicia Nestor, food safety director, Government Accountability Project; Alice Slater, president, Global Resource
Action Center for the Environment; and Wenonah Hauter,
director, Public Citizen’s Energy and Environment Program,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) regulatory changes designed to protect the United States against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, show some slight progress, but the agency must go much further before it can say it has a truly protective system in place.

Downer Cows
The fact that so-called “downer” cows will no longer be allowed into the food chain is welcome but long overdue. It remains to be seen whether the agency’s implementation of this measure will be stringent enough to protect the public. Key questions about how this rule will be enforced and what mechanisms will keep downer cows out of the rendering stream (where they have the potential to contaminate animal feed) remain unanswered.

Product Holding
The fact that USDA will require products from animals tested for BSE to be held until a negative result is found is also welcome but overdue.

Advanced Meat Recovery
The fact that Advanced Meat Recovery will no longer be allowed for animals over the age of 30 months is progress, but USDA does not go far enough.

Current rules treat the presence of spinal cord and other nervous system materials as a labeling issue; if these materials are present, the agency can cite the company for a labeling violation because products containing these materials should not be labeled as “meat.” This is unacceptable. Consumers should not be exposed to spinal and nervous system materials in their food no matter how it is labeled.

USDA’s announcement that plants will be required to “verify” that their Advanced Meat Recovery process is keeping “specified risk material” out of products was hardly reassuring because the agency has established no rules on how often plants must do such verification.

Given all of these concerns, Advanced Meat Recovery should be banned.

Specified Risk Material
Similarly, the fact that “specified risk material” from animals over the age of 30 months would be deemed unfit for human consumption is progress, but USDA does not go far enough. All brains, spinal cords and other significant risk materials from an animal of any age should be banned.

While Dr. Ron DeHaven’s statement that USDA is considering moving toward rapid testing technologies is welcome, there are long-standing weaknesses in the agency’s BSE testing regime that should be addressed, including inconsistencies in testing rates between states and a lack of transparency in the design of the testing program. There also appears to be too much discretion given to individual plants regarding which animals are tested. (For more on the testing program, click here.)


Changes in the BSE surveillance program must be made in a transparent manner that allows the public to see that the appropriate animals are being tested and at an adequate rate.

Importation of Live Animals
It is too soon for USDA to allow the importation of live animals from Canada, especially in light of recent evidence that the BSE infected animal in Washington state may have originated in Canada. The agency should keep the public comment period on this issue, which is due to close Jan. 5, open until more is known about this case.

Need for Investigation
USDA’s regulatory program for BSE and the agency’s response to the discovery of the infected cow in Washington must be investigated. Congress should immediately hold hearings on this matter and request an investigation by a government agency, such as the General Accounting Office.