Consumer groups want broader feed ban

April 23, 2001 Feedstuffs by Sally Schuff

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Consumer groups urged the Food & Drug Administration last week to toughen its ban on feeding mammalian protein.

Several groups, including Public Citizen, Consumers Union and S.T.O.P. (Safe Tables Our Priority), urged FDA to lift current exemptions allowing blood and blood products, gelatin, pure porcine and pure equine protein and plate waste to be fed to ruminants.

In addition, the consumer groups are urging FDA to ban feeding any mammalian protein to any mammal -- especially swine -- as an "precautionary action" against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The requests were made April 16 during a consumer briefing held by top FDA officials in Washington, D.C. Many of the same consumer advocates, and other consumer groups, wrote Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman April 12 asking that the manufacture and sale of mechanically deboned meat and products of advanced meat recovery also be prohibited. The letter contained a number of precautionary actions the coalition demanded as part of the effort to keep the U.S. free of BSE.

At the same meeting, several top FDA officials presented briefings on agency activities to prevent an occurrence of BSE in the U.S.

Dr. Steven M. Solomon of FDAís Office of Regulatory Affairs reported that more than 10,000 feed mills, blenders or rendering plants have been inspected by FDA or state officials so far. "We are continuing to increase our inspections," Solomon said.

He said, as of April 13, there are 163 reinspections left to complete of the original 551 feed mills found with compliance problems.

He noted that last December, the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) assigned inspections for 347 firms that previously had not been inspected for compliance with the feed ban rule. Of those, 13 were found with some deficiencies, Solomon said.

In addition, follow-up inspections were assigned for plants not yet inspected by the FDA. He reported 551 had been inspected with 163 left to inspect. Solomon reported 40 firms were found with "some deviations."

As to enforcement, he said, the original focus in 1997, when the rule first became effective, was on "voluntary compliance through education and leaving a list of ëdeviationsí with the firm."

Currently, FDA is trying "to increase our enforcement aspects," Solomon said. "Current inspections have resulted in warning letters and recall of products that have been distributed into commercial channels."

He told the group, "We are still finding follow-up violations. If we continue to find violations, firms may be subject to other enforcement, including "seizure or injunctions."

Additionally, Solomon warned, "(FDA) also provides copies of all regulatory actions and notices to state feed control officials or those in charge of state licensing or registrations. The states and (the officials) may take separate actions under their own authorities."

Solomon said FDA would be contracting for more inspections with state officials in the future. "This fiscal year, we have contracted an addition 771 inspections in 19 states." During the coming fiscal year, FDA will work with all 50 states at up to 4,000 inspections of unlicensed feed mills.

During his briefing, Dr. Steven Sundlof, director of CVM, told the consumer groups BSE is spread "virtually exclusively through consumption of animal feed that contains the infectious material" of an infected animal.

The fact that BSE has a single control point makes it easier to stop the disease, he explained.

At the time FDA proposed the ruminant protein ban, it originally proposed banning all ruminant proteins -- allowing none of the current exemptions, Sundlof said.

The final rule, however, allowed exemptions for blood and blood products, milk and milk products, pure porcine and pure equine meat and bone meal, gelatin and plate waste.

He explained that those exemptions were allowed because "the scientific literature at the time had some fairly convincing studies that showed the disease could not be transmitted to cattle by consuming blood."

However, new studies raise question about "other routes of administration in which blood may have some potential for being infective."

"Weíre looking at those studies," said Sundlof.

However, there was no reason, he noted, to question the safety of the milk and milk products exemption. "They are not thought to transmit the disease either to animals or to humans."

The same is said about the exemption for porcine and equine meat and bone meal. Neither swine nor horses have ever been shown to be infected with a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, making meat and bone meal from those sources safe, said Sundlof.

The process used to make gelatin dramatically lowers any disease risk, he said, "such that it is believed it is not able to transmit the disease."

Reprocessed plate waste is another area. Sundlof said FDA is looking into it to "determine if this is indeed a safe practice."

FDA does not require pet foods to carry the warning label if they contain ruminant protein "because they are not intended for cattle."

However, Sundlof said, pet foods are sometime salvaged. "If they contain prohibited material, they must be labeled so they are not fed to cattle," he said.

Meanwhile, FDA and other federal agencies are planning a joint table-top and field-level "war game" exercise sometime later this year to test the U.S. Department of Agricultureís BSE Response Plan.

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