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FDA Not Doing Enough to Prevent Mad Cow Disease?

February 26, 2001 CNN Live Today by Kyra Phillips, Jeanne Meserve
HIGHLIGHT: A General Accounting Office report issued today says not enough is being done by the federal government to keep mad cow disease out of the United States. The report also says that if the disease did enter the country, current safeguards might not be enough to detect it.

BODY: THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The FDA has failed to properly enforce its restrictions on animal feed that are intended to keep mad cow disease from spreading if it ever gets into the country. We're going to go to Washington, D.C. now, where Jeanne Meserve is standing. She has got more on this late breaking news we just got. Jeanne, hello.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kyra. The General Accounting Office report issued today says not enough is being done by the federal government to keep BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, out of the United States [Quoting from the report: "the United States has imported about 1,000 cattle;about 23 million pounds of inedible meat by-products,including meat and bone meal;about 101 million pounds of beef;and about 24 million pounds of prepared beef products during the past 20 years from countries where BSE was later found... In light of the long incubation period for BSE (up to 8 years),the possibility that some contaminated animals or products have entered the United States cannot be ruled out.--BSE coordinator]. The report also says that if the disease did enter the country, current safeguards might not be enough to detect it and keep it from spreading to other cattle or to the human food supply.

The report says there are weaknesses in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration's import controls. It says the USDA is not testing many animals who die on farms, animals that are considered high risk. It says the FDA has not adequately policed the ban that prohibits certain proteins in animal feed and requires the labeling of animal feed that cannot be fed to cattle.

[The GAO also called on the FDA to stop allowing the feed the remains of horses and pigs and other animals to livestock. Quoting from the the report: "Recent research on the ability of animals to be "silent " carriers of TSEs from another species raises questions about the advisability of including in feed for cattle,or other ruminants,proteins from animals such as pigs and horses..."--BSE coordinator]

It characterized FDA's data on inspections as severely flawed, and says not all the firms that should be inspected have even been identified. Those firms who have been found in noncompliance, the report says, have sometimes not been reinspected and sometimes no enforcement action has been taken.

The Food and Drug Administration has yet to respond, but Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman issued a press release taking issue with the report and its findings. Veneman argues that the administration has taken aggressive steps to strengthen mad cow protections, including significant funding increases for inspection, testing and research. She says the GAO report contains some scientific and technical errors. She also points out very strongly that no cases of mad cow have been found in U.S. cattle nor have any cases of the human form been detected -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: A bit of good news there. Jeanne Meserve live from Washington. Thank you so much.


[To read the entire text of the GAO report Mad Cow Disease: Improvements in the Animal Feed Ban and Other Regulatory Areas Would Strengthen U.S. Prevention Efforts, or order a free printed copy, go to http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-02-183--BSE coordinator]

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