FDA Changes Animal Feed Rules in Move to Prevent Mad Cow Disease

U.S. pet food makers and makers of all other animal feed will no longer be permitted to use certain materials from cattle in an effort to reduce the increasing risks for spreading <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/food_poisoning">mad cow disease.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees animal feed, just finalized a new rule this Wednesday that states that excluding high-risk materials from cattle which are 30 months of age or older from all animal feed will prevent any accidental cross-contamination between ruminant feed and non-ruminant feed or feed ingredients.  Ruminant feed is that feed which is intended for animals such as cattle.  This measure finalizes a proposed rule that was open for public comment in October 2005; the measure will be going into effect next year on April 23, 2009.

Contamination can occur in any of a variety of stages in the meat process from manufacture to transport.  Contamination can also occur through the accidental misfeeding of non-ruminant feed to ruminant animals.  Following a mad cow disease outbreak in Britain several years back, both Canada and the United States banned the inclusion of protein from cows and other ruminant animals, such as goats and sheep, in cattle feed in 1997.

Currently, the major U.S. safeguards against mad cow disease include the current planned feed ban; a prohibition against slaughtering most “downer” cattle for human food; and a requirement for meatpackers to remove brains, spinal cords, and other parts most likely to contain the malformed proteins blamed for mad cow disease from animal carcasses.  Downer animals are those animals too sick to walk on their own and the USDA forbids downer cows that cannot move on their own from being slaughtered because their illness may be an indication of a condition that renders their meat unfit for consumption.  The most famous condition of concern is Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease.  While cattle are afflicted with BSE, humans who eat infected meat are at a risk of contracting Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [vCJD].  Mad cow disease is a fatal, brain-wasting disease which scientists believe can be spread by contaminated feed and by eating contaminated parts from an infected animal.

The United States has found three cases of mad cow disease, including the first one which was detected in December of 2003.  Soon after, U.S. beef exports were virtually halted and U.S. officials have been slowly working to resume beef shipments.  Last week, South Korea officially announced it would gradually open its market to U.S. beef imports as Washington intensifies U.S. safety standards.  If there are no further incidents, a full range of U.S. beef boneless and bone-in, from animals of any age, would be shipped to a market estimated to be worth up to $1 billion a year.

Meanwhile, critics of the nation’s food safety system say it is disjointed, disorganized, inefficient, and sluggish; that it is riddled with overlapping authority, differing regulations, and multiple processes; and that today’s system suffers from a lack of funding, inspectors, and enforcement powers.

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