Food supply is not as safe as it could be: what you can do

December 6, 2004
Joan Eve Quinn (914) 378-2436
Alberto Rojas (914) 378-2434


YONKERS, NY—Consumer Reports’ (CR) January investigative report, “You are what they eat,” raises concerns that the federal government isn’t doing enough to protect the feed supply and that as a result, the food we eat may not be as safe as it could be.
Consumers are vulnerable to pathogens, drugs, and contaminants consumed by the animals they eat. To assess the safety of the nation’s animal feed and implications for consumers, CR interviewed feed-industry experts and critics; reviewed recent research and spoke to scientists who conducted it; and tested chicken for arsenic, an approved additive in an antiparasitic drug given to many healthy birds to make them grow faster. Regulatory loop-holes could allow mad cow infection, if present, to make its way into cattle feed. Drugs used in chickens could raise human exposure to arsenic or antibiotic-resistant bacteria; farmed fish could harbor PCBs and dioxins. The Government Accountability Office has called the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s data on inspections of animal feed producers “severely flawed.” Yet federal food safety agencies have failed to tighten regulations. Here are the main highlights of CR’s report:
Cattle: From August 1997 through March 2004, 52 companies recalled 410 feed products for violating federal rules protecting feed from infectious prions, proteins believed to cause mad cow disease. By last July, the FDA delayed tightening a ban on risky feed ingredients. Prions can get into feed because mammalian blood and meat scraps are allowed in cow feed. Cow remains can be fed to chickens and pigs, whose remains can be fed back to cows. If blood and scraps harbor infectious prions, cattle could sicken and pass along the disease. CR recommends that all mammalian material should be banned from all animal feed.
Chicken: CR found low levels of arsenic in livers of conventionally raised chicken, but none in organic chicken livers. In addition, bacteria in chickens fed antibiotics can become resistant to those drugs. People sickened by eating the chicken may not be cured by the usual drugs. CR recommends a cutback on the use of medications in healthy flocks.
Fish: Farm-raised salmon has higher levels of dioxins and PCBs, which are likely carcinogens in humans, than in wild. The probable cause: feed made of fish and fish oil from polluted waters. CR recommends that industry should use feed fish from cleaner waters and find substitutes for fish oil.
What you can do:

o Take action to make the food supply safer by visiting, a public policy web site of Consumers Union, the independent nonprofit publisher of CR.
o To avoid meat from animals fed animal by-products, drugs, or grain grown from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, look for beef or chicken certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but you will probably have to shop around to find it.
o The claims “no antibiotics administered,” “no hormones administered,” and “no chemicals added” are unverified. For more about labels, visit our web site at
o Wild salmon (and shrimp) are likely to be free of antibiotics. Don’t spend extra for fish labeled organic because the government has not yet set a standard for it.
News media can reprint the information below with the following credit line: Reprinted with permission of Consumer Reports January 2005,

In 1997, the FDA required that most protein derived from ruminants (cud-chewing animals) be kept out of feed given to other ruminants. The goal was to keep the feed supply free of infectious prions, proteins thought to spread bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease), which has been linked to a fatal brain disease in humans. Although the rendering process can kill viruses and bacteria, it doesn’t eliminate all prions.
The Issue: Prions
What they are: Proteins that can become malformed and infect cud-chewing animals (ruminants) with mad cow disease.
How they could get in feed: Mammalian blood and meat scraps are allowed in cow feed. Cow remains can also be fed to chickens and pigs, whose remains can be fed back to cows.
The danger: If blood and scraps harbor infectious prions, or if contaminated nonruminant feed is accidentally mixed with ruminant, cattle could sicken and pass along disease.
The solution: Ban mammalian material from all animal feed.

“You are what they ate” is available free at
The January 2005 issue of Consumer Reports will be available December 7 wherever magazines are sold. To subscribe, call 1-800-765-1845.

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