Urgent need to improve USDA surveillance on mad cow


March 13, 2006

Consumers Union: Third Confirmed Case Underlines Urgent Need to Tighten FDA Animal Feed Rules, Improve USDA Surveillance

YONKERS, NY – The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement today of a third case of mad cow disease in the United States underlines the need to take additional precautions immediately, says Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. Mad cow disease has already caused 150 deaths in the United Kingdom, apparently from eating tainted beef.
“It’s unacceptable that the American public has been waiting for more than two years for the FDA to tighten its animal feed rules,” states Jean Halloran, food policy expert at Consumers Union. After the first case of mad cow was discovered in the United States in December 2003, then FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said that FDA would end the practices of feeding chicken coop floor wastes, restaurant wastes, and cows’ blood to cattle, all of which FDA said at the time could potentially transmit the mad cow disease agent. However the agency never followed through.
In October 2005, the FDA proposed a different course: banning cattle brains and spinal cords from chicken and pig feed. FDA argued that this would prevent any infectious material present in cattle brains from coming back to cattle via the chicken coop floor wastes. However this proposal is still pending, and has been criticized as too weak by both industry representatives and consumer advocates.
“We shouldn’t wait for a major outbreak of mad cow disease to take greater preventive action. There is no question that we should not be feeding the remains of any mammals to food animals, and by not closing this dangerous loophole, we are exposing the American public to unnecessary risk,” adds Halloran.
Consumers Union also urges USDA to expand its surveillance program, which tests less than 1 percent of US cattle per year and to require that all cattle over 20 months of age be tested at slaughter for mad cow disease.
Consumers can minimize any risk of exposure to beef that may harbor mad cow disease by buying organic beef, says Consumers Union. Organic production prohibits any use of animal by-products in feed. Consumers can also protect themselves by avoiding the higher-risk parts of the animal such as brains, and beef cuts that combine meat from a number of animals, such as sausage, hot dogs, and hamburger.
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