1/3 of state's cattle-feed producers fail some inspections

1/3 of state's cattle-feed producers fail some inspections

May 14, 2001 Denver Post
While red-meat consumers may not be in danger because mad cow disease has not shown up in North America, some industry observers point to the failed inspections when calling for tougher rules and more testing for the disease.

"The present system has no allowance for either human greed or human error, and that's a bad way to proceed," said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Policy Institute of the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Federation of America. "It's such a devastating disease for both humans and animals; it's probably worthwhile to take all of the protective steps that we can."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not yet issuing fines or sanctions to those who break the rules, calling its first rounds of inspections an educational exercise. Of 71 Colorado feed concerns inspected through late 2000 that handled cattle parts, 26 failed to add a warning label that would help prevent that feed from going to live cattle, or 37 percent of the total.

British experts believe humans contracted a form of mad cow disease there by eating meat from cattle that were fed the rendered remains of diseased cattle.

The FDA issued rules in 1997 prohibiting the feeding of cattle or other ruminant parts to U.S. cattle.

More worrisome to some experts was the finding that at the 40 Colorado locations which handle both cattle remains and other protein from pigs or chickens, inspectors were not able to answer the vital question of whether those firms have a system to prevent co-mingling of the materials.

At least nine of those 40 firms also failed to apply the warning label, making it nearly impossible to tell what animal parts were in the feed.

And of 123 Colorado feed locations inspected overall, 35 said they were not aware of the regulations - although some of those were already following the safeguards as their normal practice.

The FDA, which conducted the inspections along with state regulators, is now trying to follow up at each site to see if its education effort brought better compliance with the mad cow rules. They are also instructing the state inspectors who helped them on how to properly complete the query forms.

"No excuse' for violations

While not enough Colorado firms have been reinspected to assess that goal, the FDA claims that of 157 feed-handling firms reviewed nationally, only one was still failing the rules test.

Feed and rendering industry officials said they may have resisted the rules at first because mad cow was never in the food chain here. But they worked with the FDA on the rules once it became clear the public and the government wanted more assurance, said Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association.

Cook has analyzed the inspection database and thinks Colorado companies responded well to the rules.

"We expect 100 percent compliance. There's no excuse for not complying," Cook said.

The best results from the inspections came in the rules for record-keeping, which require renderers, feed processors or mixers to maintain books allowing officials to track specific materials through their receipt, processing and distribution. As with other outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, this would allow regulators to find where diseased material entered the food chain and what feed needed to be recalled to solve the problem.

In Colorado, 136 inspections addressed the bookkeeping issue, and only seven firms failed the test, for a success rate of 95 percent.

The success and failure rates in Colorado for tests of various mad cow rules were similar to the national results reported by the FDA in more than 10,000 inspections.

Mad cow disease is the common term for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a brain-wasting malady that is always fatal and takes similar forms in other species, ranging from sheep to elk. In Britain, about 95 humans who ate meat tainted with mad cow disease are now suffering or have died from a human variant of the disease. Millions of cattle have been destroyed in Europe to try to eliminate any animals still carrying the disease.

British scientists believe their nation suffered a sudden outbreak because cattle there ate rendered protein tainted with diseased cattle or sheep parts.

Changes in Britain's rendering and feeding practices opened a brief window for the disease to spread in the food chain.

To counter the outbreak, other nations, including the United States, banned all imports of live cattle and processed meat from Britain. No cases of mad cow or its human variant have ever been diagnosed in the United States. But until the late 1990s, it was common in the U.S. cattle industry to use rendered cattle protein as a feed supplement to fatten herds.

FDA officials in 1997, further walling off the U.S. food chain, banned cattle operations here from feeding parts of cattle or other ruminants back to cattle.

Some want tougher ban

Some food experts want the livestock industry to go a few steps further and ban feeding any animal protein back to animals.

Some feedlots, for example, still use protein derived from poultry or pigs. Critics worry that since pigs and poultry can still consume cattle protein, and those pigs and poultry can then legally be fed back to cattle, the potential chain for mad cow's spread has not been broken.

The Consumer Federation's Foreman said a stiffer ban would keep the wrong kinds of feed from mixing due to either accident or dealers that ignore looser rules.

"These are commodities," she said.

"They are not tracked like medical devices" or diamonds, she added. "It goes out there by the ton. Controlling where it goes is really beyond their ability."

Wyoming, with far fewer feed sites to inspect than Colorado, reported mixed results.

Most of the 29 firms inspected were aware of the rules, but of the 15 that handled the prohibited ruminant materials, seven used no warning labels to keep that feed from going to cows.

All of the Wyoming firms reviewed were keeping the required records.

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