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Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
A.V. Krebs Editor\Publisher

Issue #102 January 19, 2001


Concern that the U.S. could be caught in the same grip as the European continent is currently facing with the outbreak and spread of “mad cow” disease, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called attention to the fact a large numbers of companies involved in manufacturing animal feed are not complying with regulations meant to prevent the emergence of the dreaded disease.

Much more needs to be done to ensure that “mad cow” disease does not arise in this country, Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA, emphasized to the New York Times Sandra Blakeslee. However, Dr. Sundlof sought to assure that the widespread failure of companies to follow the regulations, adopted in August 1997, does not mean that the American food supply is unsafe.

FDA regulations mandate that feed manufacturers and companies that render slaughtered animals into useful products generally may not feed mammals to cud-chewing animals, or ruminants, which can carry mad cow disease. Manufacturers must also have a system to prevent ruminant products from being commingled with other rendered material like that from chicken, fish or pork and all companies must keep records of where their products originated and where they were sold.

Recently released results Blakeslee reports, however, demonstrate that more than three years after the imposition of the regulations different segments of the feed industry show varying levels of compliance.

Among 180 large companies that render cattle and another ruminant, sheep, nearly a quarter were not properly labeling their products and did not have a system to prevent commingling, the F.D.A. said. In addition, among 347 F.D.A.-licensed feed mills that handle ruminant materials --- those companies which tend to be large operators that mix drugs into their products --- 20% were not using labels with the required caution statement, and 25% did not have a system to prevent commingling.

With these results from feed-mill inspections, the FDA warns that companies could face seizures, shutdowns, even prosecution if they continue to violate rules meant to keep American livestock from eating slaughtered-animal parts linked to the deadly brain disease. Many companies in violation already have received warning letters, and some feed has been recalled.

Europe's mad-cow crisis "is not a result of them not having adequate regulations in place --- it was a problem of enforcement. And we don't want to end up like that," Sundlof pointed out while promising more intense inspections.

Fear over mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, came in the mid-1990s when Great Britain discovered a new version of the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was apparently being caused by eating infected beef. Some 80 people have died of the new CJD disease in Britain since then, and now France, Germany and other European countries are discovering infected livestock. Such animals acquire the disease by eating the tissue of other infected animals, and British cows are thought first to have been infected by eating feed made from sheep harboring a similar illness.

U.S. scientists believe that better methods for testing cattle are needed and that many questions remain about the disease's origin, cause and transmission. Current tests are considered too slow and they can only be done on dead cattle.

The FDA has listed "mad cow" and related diseases among its top research priorities for food safety. "We still don't know what's behind this disease," said Bernard Schwetz, the FDA's acting deputy commissioner.

Despite the increasing wariness and unknowns about "mad cow" disease, U.S. regulators continue to allow the livestock industry to feed massive amounts of antibiotics to healthy animals to spur growth and to permit chickens and hogs to be raised under factory farm conditions in which diseases can quickly spread.

This practice, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, "can substantially reduce the efficacy of the human antimicrobial arsenal" by helping create resistant organisms that then render the drugs useless in fighting potentially devastating human diseases. Dr. Charles Benbrook, an author of the report, said the practice may increase industry profits but "it puts everyone's health at risk."

Past issues of this newsletter can be found at the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project’s web site on the Internet. The CARP web site features: THE AGBIZ TILLER, THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER and "Between the Furrows."

THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed newsletter, now becomes an on-line news feature of the Project. In-depth essays dealing with corporate agribusiness activities are posted here periodically.

In "Between the Furrows," besides a modern search engine, there is a wide range of pages designed to inform and educate readers on the inner workings of corporate agribusiness. In addition to CARP's "Mission Statement," "Overview" and the Project director's "Publication Background," the viewer will find a helpful "Fact Miners" page which is an effort to assist the reader in the necessary art of researching corporations; a page of "Quotable Quotes" pertaining to agribusiness and corporate power; a "Links" page which allow the reader to survey various useful public interest, government and corporate web sites; a "Feedback" page for reader input, and a page where readers can order directly the editor's The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.

The CARP web site was designed and produced by ElectricArrow of Seattle, Washington.

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