Some Firms Still Aren't Following Mad-Cow Rules

October 31, 2001 Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) by Lou Kilzer
Thirteen percent of the U.S. firms processing animal feed banned for cattle are not complying with rules designed to prevent mad-cow disease, the Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday.

The figure, while an improvement from the 22 percent noncompliance of just three months ago, shows that the industry is still struggling with the 4-year-old rules, said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Sundlof announced the figures at a hearing here to discuss possibly changing those rules to better protect against mad-cow disease, scientifically known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. Instances of noncompliance with the current rules include mislabeling products, failing to prevent possible tainted meat from being fed to cows and maintaining inadequate records.

Representatives from farm bureaus, renderers, feed industry associations and cattle breeders took to the podium, mostly to tell the FDA they didn't favor new rules, only better enforcement of the old ones.

But one speaker, Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union, said radical measures may be necessary to protect Americans from dangerous food.

The FDA's 1997 rules forbid the feeding of protein from certain animals to ruminants - a class that includes deer, sheep, elk and cattle.

The FDA established the ban 11 years after BSE was found in British cattle.

Most scientists believe that BSE has been spread by cows eating protein from sheep infected with Scrapies, another spongiform encephalopathy.

In 1996, after reassuring the public that BSE could not be transmitted to humans, the British government announced that in 10 cases it had. That started the mad-cow panic, which eventually resulted in the killing of more than 4.5 million cattle.

To date there have been 112 cases of the disease in humans, where it is called vCJD. It is inevitably fatal.

The encephalopathy that include chronic wasting diseases in a small percentage of northeast Colorado elk and deer are caused by a mutant protein called a prion. A healthy form of the protein is found in all mammals.

Speaker after speaker at Tuesday's hearing said there was no scientific basis for an expanded ban.

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