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CU’s comments to FDA to not delay implementation of the BSE feed rule

Consumers Union’s comments on FDA Docket No. 2002-N-0031: Substances
Prohibited From Use in Animal Food or Feed; Final
Rule: Proposed Delay of Effective Date

April 16, 2009
Prepared by Michael Hansen Ph.D., Senior Scientist

Consumers Union strongly believes that the FDA’s decision to ban only a limited subset of specified risk materials (SRMs)—the brain and spinal chord—from cattle over 30 months from all animal, leaves the safety of US beef at risk. We have argued previously that proposed FDA feed ban of 2005 will not close the loopholes in the present feed ban and does not fully protect the US from the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) (Hansen, 2005, at: http://www.consumersunion.org/pdf/feed.rule1205.pdf).
In fact, the final rule (73 FR pp. 22719-22758, April 25, 2008) is even weaker than the rule proposed in 2005. The 2005 proposal included banning the entire carcass of cattle not inspected and passed for human consumption if the brains and spinal cords have not been removed. This provision effectively allows certain dead and downed cattle (ones in which the brain and spinal cord have been removed) to be used for animal feed. This is highly problematical as surveillance data from Europe clearly show that dead and downed animals are far more likely to test positive for BSE compared to healthy normal cattle. Also, since the total amount of the infectious agent will be highest in animals that have died of BSE, to allow tissues from these dead and downed animals into the animal feed chain appears to contradict the intent of this regulation. However, the final rule has been weakened to permit the entire carcass of cattle not inspected and passed for human consumption if they are under 30 months of age. Give that absence of animal ID makes age determination unreliable (see Hansen, 2005), this weakening is particularly problematical.
Even though CU has argued for a much more stringent feed ban, we feel that this final proposed feed rule is still a step in the right direction and should be immediately implemented. We do not think that the implementation date of the feed rule should be delayed for 60 days. We note that FDA first proposed the change in the 1997 feed rule in 2005 and when the final rule was published on April 25, 2008, implementation was put off for one year. This is more than enough time for industry to realize that the feed rule was being changed and they were even give one year’s notice. Consequently, we don’t think that any more time should be given. FDA should implement the final rule on schedule and keep the effective date of the rule as April 27, 2009. Any delay in the implementation of the feed rule will clearly show that FDA is putting the economic interests of the rendering and feed industry above public health concerns.