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Consumers Union says FDA action overdue on mad cow risk

November 18, 2004
Michael Hansen at (914) 378-2452 or
Jean Halloran at (914) 378-2457

Agency should immediately close loopholes in animal feed rules; possible new case underscores need to test more cows

YONKERS, N.Y. – The U.S. Agriculture Department’s announcement that it is evaluating another cow to confirm or deny its infection with mad cow disease underscores the need for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to act now to protect the public and for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to test more cows annually, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, said today.
“FDA must immediately close loopholes in its rules on animal feed that could allow the disease to spread,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a research biologist at CU.
In January, the FDA promised to make changes in animal feed rules, in the wake of the discovery of the first mad cow case in the U.S. But FDA never followed through. FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan initially announced that the agency would ban cow blood and several other materials that pose risks in terms of transmission of mad cow disease in cattle feed. However, the agency never published the regulations in the Federal Register. In July, the FDA said it was considering broader restrictions, thereby postponing any action even further.
“This foot dragging must stop,” Hansen said. “The agency has known for a while that cow blood and chicken coop floor waste could be vehicles for transmission of mad cow disease. FDA should act immediately to prohibit these substances as well as restaurant waste and pig and poultry slaughterhouse waste, in ruminant feed.”
Hansen added that the USDA should also test far more than 1% of the cows slaughtered each year, a much smaller figure than the percentage tested in Japan and most of Europe. The USDA has tested 113,000 cows since it began a broader test program earlier this year, but more than 35 million cattle are slaughtered for food in the country each year.
“While testing alone will not fully protect the public, we should be testing all animals over 20 months, said Hansen. “Even animals that test negative can be silent carriers of this infection,” Hansen added.”
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