Consumer Group Calls the Thousand Meat Plant Violations Another Example of Flaws in Federal Mad Cow Response

Aug 17, 2005, 01:00 ET from Food Animal Concerns Trust

    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,"
 concluded Wood.
     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