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US safeguards against mad cow disease called inadequate
Strict regulations on cattle feed are needed, critics say

By Libby Quaid, Associated Press  |  January 5, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Researchers and the nation's number one burger seller say the government is not fully protecting animals or people from mad cow disease. Stronger steps are needed to keep infection from entering the food chain for cattle, the critics wrote in comments to the Food and Drug Administration. The group includes McDonald's Corp., seven scientists and specialists, and a pharmaceutical supplier, Serologicals Corp. The government proposed new safeguards two months ago, but researchers said that effort ''falls woefully short" and could fail to keep cattle from eating infected feed, the primary way mad cow disease is spread. ''We do not feel that we can overstate the dangers . . . from these diseases and the need to control and arrest them to prevent any possibility of spread," the researchers wrote.

McDonald's said the risk of exposure to the disease should be reduced to zero, or as close as possible. ''It is our opinion that the government can take further action to reduce this risk," wrote Dick Crawford, company vice president. In people, eating meat or cattle products contaminated with mad cow disease is linked to a rare but fatal nerve disorder, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. No one is known to have contracted the disease in the United States. The disease has turned up in two people who lived in the United States, but it's believed that they were infected in the United Kingdom during an outbreak there in the 1980s and 1990s.

The United States has found two cases of mad cow disease in cows. Since the first case, confirmed in December 2003 in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state, the government has tested more than half a million of the nation's 95 million cows. The second case was confirmed in June in a Texas-born cow. ''While this surveillance has not uncovered an epidemic, it does not clear the US cattle herd from infection," the researchers said. The primary firewall against mad cow disease is a ban on using cattle remains in cattle feed, which the United States put in place in 1997. The feed ban, however, has loopholes that create potential pathways for mad cow disease. For example, restaurant plate waste is allowed in cattle feed. The Food and Drug Administration proposed in October to tighten the rules, but critics said glaring loopholes would remain.

The FDA, which regulates animal feed, accepted public comments on the proposal through last month. An agency spokeswoman said yesterday that it would be inappropriate to respond to those comments. The critics said their biggest concern is that tissue from dead animals would be allowed in the feed chain if brains and spinal cords have been removed. Brains and spinal cords are tissues that can carry mad cow disease, but in dead cattle that had the disease, the infection had spread beyond the brains and spinal cords. Leaving tissue from dead cattle in the feed chain would negate the FDA's attempt to strengthen its safeguards, the critics said.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.