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Consumer Groups Point to Holes in Cattle Feed Rules

Published on Saturday, Janaury 3, 2004 by Reuters by Chris Baltimore

Published on Saturday, Janaury 3, 2004 by Reuters by Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON - U.S. food safety regulators should widen a 1997 ban on feeding
cattle parts to other cattle to include blood, gelatin and other exempted
materials which could spread mad cow disease, consumer groups said on
Friday.

The discovery of mad cow disease in a Holstein dairy cow in Washington state
has focused new attention on how cattle are raised and slaughtered.

Since the Dec. 23 diagnosis of the nation's first case, officials have
repeatedly touted the fact that the infected cow was born in April 1997,
about four months before the Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites)
banned the use of cattle remains as an ingredient in feed for other cows.

However, in industry guidance documents issued in 1997, the FDA exempted
from the ban cattle blood, blood products and gelatin, derived from cattle
hoofs. The exemptions thus allow some cattle byproducts to be fed back to
cattle.

For example, some farms collect the blood of slaughtered cattle and feed it
to calves in dehydrated form, said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic
Consumers Association. This is a cheaper source of protein for calves than
milk, he said.

The existing feed ban is "not only inadequate but is actually a public
health risk," Cummins said.

Consumer watchdog groups want the FDA to expand its feed ban to include
cattle blood and gelatin, which theoretically could spread the brain-wasting
disease.

"One of the big questions is why haven't they addressed this," said Carol
Tucker Foreman, a food safety expert with the Consumer Federation of
America.

The existing exemption "seems extraordinary considering that (mad cow
disease) could seemingly be passed on this way," she added.

The FDA is "looking at all options at this point" related to changing or
expanding its feed ban policies, but has made no decisions, a spokeswoman
said.

On Friday, Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary
Medicine, said that 99 percent of U.S. feed mills were in compliance with
the 1997 regulation prohibiting the use of most cattle remains from cattle
rations.

Cummins said loopholes in the livestock feed ban end up letting other cattle
parts to be fed back to cattle.

For example, he noted that all cattle remains can legally be used to feed
chickens, and that poultry excrement swept out of chickenhouses can be fed
back to cattle. As much as 30 percent of such sweepings contain uneaten
poultry food that chickens have scattered about the floor, Cummins said.

U.S. investigators are trying to trace the feed given to the infected cow
during its first years of life to determine if it might have been
contaminated.

Scientists believe that an outbreak of mad cow disease, also known as bovine
spongiform encephalopathy, spread in Britain in the 1980s when cattle ate
infected feed. Humans can contract a form of the disease by eating diseased
cattle.

The current FDA regulations allow cattle brains, spinal cords and other
potentially risky material to be ground up and used in feed for poultry,
pigs and household pets.

   
         

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