WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week announced plans to close what it perceives as a gap in the country's defense against bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, by expanding a ban on cattle parts in animal feed.
BSE collects in the nervous system tissues, brains and spinal cords of infected animals, and in an effort to prevent the spread of the brain-wasting illness within domestic herds, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1997 banned the once common practice of feeding these slaughterhouse byproducts to cows or other ruminants, such as sheep.
FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford now feels the current ban is insufficient, and, in remarks made during a policy conference sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America, he said the FDA would soon change the feed rules to mirror proposed Canadian regulations, which would ban these "at-risk tissues" from use in other animal feeds, such as food for chickens and pigs.
The 1997 Feed Ban is often described as a key "firewall" protecting U.S. herds from a BSE outbreak similar to the one that devastated England's beef industry in the mid-1990s. Notably, U.S. and Canadian feed bans have been invoked each of the five times the disease has been confirmed in a North American cow since 2003. Agriculture officials each time have attempted to calm consumers and commodities markets partly by emphasizing the age of the infected cattle, noting that the cows were born prior to the ban and must have eaten contaminated feed before or during 1997.
However, by allowing at-risk tissues to be used in feed for chickens, pigs and even pets, the current rules significantly raise the risk of feed misuse or accidental contamination of cattle feed at processing plants and farms, Crawford noted.
Canada's current feed regulations are similar to those in the United States, and Crawford gave no specific date for strengthening rules here.