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 stated. "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