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FDA reneges on promise to quickly reduce mad cow risk in feed

Friday, July 9, 2004
Jean Halloran (914) 378-2457
Adam Goldberg (202) 462-6262

FDA Betrays Public Trust; Reneges on Promise to
Quickly Reduce Mad Cow Risk in Animal Feed

(Yonkers, NY) — Consumers Union, the independent, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, today criticized the Bush Administration for reneging on a promise made in January to quickly tighten rules governing what material can be in animal feed for cattle to help reduce the risk that the feed might transmit mad cow disease.
“This is a betrayal of a promise made to consumers to protect their health,” said Jean Halloran, director of Consumers Union’s Consumer Policy Institute. “Six months ago the administration said it would take the necessary steps to address this problem, and now it is dragging its feet.”
At a news conference on Jan. 26, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and then Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Mark McClelland announced that FDA was issuing an interim final rule that would change four U.S. feed practices it said were risky. FDA said it would change its rules so that cattle could not be fed blood from other cattle, floor wastes from poultry facilities, and plate wastes from restaurants. These types of feed practices were similar to those in place in the United Kingdom before that nation’s mad cow outbreak and may have contributed to Britain’s epidemic. FDA also said it would require separate machinery at feed facilities for handling cattle protein and other types of protein.
However the changed rule was never issued. Today FDA said in a press release that consideration of such measures had been demoted to an “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” a very preliminary stage in the rulemaking process that might never result in final FDA action.
“As a result of FDA’s backing off from its commitment, calves can still be fed cows’ blood in their milk formula,” Halloran said. “Cows also can consume poultry wastes that may contain poultry feces and spilled feed that could carry the mad cow agent. These practices increase the risk that this deadly disease may infect cows, and in turn infect people who eat beef.”
FDA had issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking two years ago, in November 2002, regarding the need to tighten the feed rule to reduce risks of mad cow disease, technically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE.
“FDA does not need another round of comments; it should act on what it said it would do,” stated Halloran. “They know what needs to be done and how to do it. This further delay needlessly puts public health at risk. This action today raises profound questions as to whether the public can trust statements made by the Bush Administration on food safety.”
At the Jan. 26 press conference, Secretary Thompson stated that “[a]lthough the current animal feed rule provides a strong barrier against the further spread of BSE, we must never be satisfied with the status quo…this is the time to make sure the public is protected to the greatest extent possible.” This statement is very similar to one issued today by Secretary Thompson. Commissioner McClellan further said at the Jan. 26 press conference that “we are bolstering our BSE firewalls…we are further strengthening our animal feed rule.”
Given today’s announcement, Halloran countered, “Now it appears this was empty rhetoric. Any action will be far in the future. In the meantime, public health is at risk.”
FDA’s announcement also included the issuance of an interim final rule to prohibit the use of certain cattle-derived materials in human food and cosmetics, and a proposed rule on recordkeeping requirements. Both of these proposals are welcome and will help in the fight against the spread of mad cow disease. However, in the absence of stricter animal feed rules, the totality of FDA’s announced actions are inadequate.