CHICAGO, Aug. 17 /PRNewswire/ -- Responding to information released by the
US Department of Agriculture that over 1,000 meat packers had been cited for
failing to take required steps to protect consumers from Mad Cow Disease, Food
Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) called for increased front-end Mad Cow
protections, steps to be taken before the meat is processed. "This new USDA
data illustrates that we cannot rely only on end-product steps to protect the
American public," stated Richard Wood, FACT's Executive Director. "Front-end
protections must be increased, focusing on cattle feed and cattle
surveillance," he stated.
On August 15th, USDA made public information that showed it had cited meat
packers for failing to take steps to adequately remove brains and spinal cords
from older cattle to reduce the risk to consumers from Mad Cow Disease. USDA
enacted this new rule in January 2004, after an infected cow was detected in
Washington State. The brain and spinal cord ban is necessary because these
tissues are most likely to contain prions, the protein that leads to Mad Cow
and the related human disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease. These
high-risk tissues are called specified risk materials (SRMs). The over 1000
citations were given because of: failures to have plans in place to
adequately remove the high-risk tissues; cross-contamination between high-risk
and edible meat; poor-record keeping; and inadequate age determination. Age
determination is important because infectivity builds up in cattle over time.
The removal of specified risk materials from cattle slaughtered for human
consumption is part of a multi-tiered system designed to protect the public
from Mad Cow. The first level of protection was to guard the borders from
importing cattle and cattle feed from countries with the disease. This
protection failed when the first case of BSE was detected in a cow born in
Canada and then more recently in a US born cow.
The second level of protection is the ban on feeding protein from cattle
back to other cattle, because this can lead to the spread and multiplication
of the disease. The Food and Drug Administration implemented a ban on feeding
proteins from cattle back to other cattle in 1997, but the feed ban is widely
recognized as being inadequate because of questions of cross-contamination in
feed plants. The 1997 rule also has serious gaps in its coverage such as
allowing cattle to be fed with poultry house waste that contains meat and bone
meal from cattle. Even before the first US Mad Cow case in December 2003, the
FDA was considering strengthening the ban and in January 2004 went as far as
announcing rules to tighten the ban. Now over 18 months later, the FDA has
still not published any new rules on the ban.
The third level of protection is the USDA surveillance program. USDA
tests a sample of cattle that it believes are at higher risk for Mad Cow.
This sampling program detected the two US Mad Cow cases found thus far;
however, unlike other countries where BSE has been detected, the US and Canada
refuse to test all adult cattle. USDA's own Inspector General strongly
criticized the agency's testing program in August 2004. Now a year later,
USDA has just announced that it will go ahead and sample a meager 20,000 out
of the over 6 million apparently healthy adult cattle slaughtered every year,
the same sampling size criticized by the Inspector General as being
inadequate. For that level of testing to detect any cow with the disease, one
out of every 7000 cattle would need to be infected; a level much higher than
is realistic. FACT believes that if 1 out of every 7000 cattle is infected
with Mad Cow, the system has already failed.
As FACT sees it, USDA requires meat packers to remove the brain and spinal
cords from older cattle because of the limitations of the Mad Cow Sampling
Program. "If the USDA could detect all infected cattle and chose to test all
adult cattle, removing these high-risk tissues would not be necessary," Wood
"The US has failed to keep Mad Cow from entering through its borders, the
FDA has failed to take steps to strengthen the feed ban despite studying the
problem for years, the USDA refuses to allow testing of potentially infected
cattle, and now we know of over a thousand cases where the system to remove
high-risk materials in slaughter houses and meat packing plants has failed.
What these failures reveal is the need to tighten all levels of controls,"
Based in Chicago, FACT is a consumer group that advocates for the safety
of meat, milk and eggs and was involved in the development of FDA's 1997
ruminant feed ban. FACT has worked since that time for a stronger federal
response to Mad Cow.
SOURCE Food Animal Concerns Trust