US Nutritional Supplements Containing
Cow Brains--Cause for Alarm

Supplements Raise Mad Cow Concerns

The Associated Press
February 05, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) - Dr. Scott Norton was browsing through herbal
supplements when he spotted bottles containing not just plants but some
unexpected animal parts: brains, testicles, tracheas and glands from
cows and other animals.

The Maryland physician sounded an alarm: How can Americans be sure those
supplements, some imported from Europe, are made of tissue free from mad
cow disease?

Norton's complaint has government scientists scrambling to investigate a
possible hole in the nation's safety net against mad cow disease and its
cousin that destroys human brains.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has never been
found in this country. Nor has the human ``new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
disease'' that people in Britain, France and Ireland caught apparently
from eating BSE-infected beef. The government has taken steps to guard
against BSE spreading here, such as banning the importation of European
beef imports and the use of even domestic cow remains in U.S. cattle

But critics are pointing to some loopholes far removed from beef: Just
what dietary supplements or bulk ingredients containing cow brain or
nerve tissue might be slipping from Europe through U.S. ports?

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration quietly cracked down on some
vaccine manufacturers after discovering they improperly imported certain
European animal-derived ingredients. Supplements are far less closely
regulated, and the FDA inspects less than 1 percent of all imports under
its jurisdiction.

``It would not be difficult for a manufacturer of a dietary supplement
to obtain a cow brain in Britain, crush it up, dry it up, and then if
they wished get it into this country,'' contends Dr. Peter Lurie, a
physician and consumer advocate who is one of the FDA's independent
scientific advisers on BSE.

As for FDA catching such imports, ``if they find anything, it's good

Adds Dr. Paul Brown, the FDA advisers' chairman and a BSE expert at the
National Institutes of Health: ``The worry is not that we're getting all
kinds of cow brain from mad cows into this country. The worry is that we
could, without knowing it,'' because the FDA lacks resources or
authority to strongly police supplements.

Nor are imports the only loophole worry. Animals other than cows get
similar brain diseases, including ``chronic wasting disease'' that
afflicts deer and elk in certain Western states and scrapie in sheep.

Yet Norton discovered supplement labels that don't reveal which animal
the tissue came from, or the country of origin. Some don't even clearly
label animal tissue, merely listing ``orchis,'' for example, as an
ingredient few laymen would recognize means testicles.

But of most concern are spinal cord and brain tissue, including glands
found in the brain. Brown reads from one supplement label that promised
half a gram of imported raw cow brain.

FDA officials contend the issue isn't a huge concern. They note the
majority of supplements are made from plants, not animals.

They also insist bovine-containing supplements mostly are made from safe
U.S. cattle, citing an FDA prohibition on certain cow-derived imported
ingredients - although they couldn't say how well inspectors enforced
that import policy.

Still, the agency recently wrote supplement makers that it ``strongly
recommends'' they take ``whatever steps are necessary'' to ensure
products don't contain ingredients of concern.

``Our radar is on alert. We're actively reviewing'' the issue, said FDA
supplement chief Christine Lewis, promising to make public her office's
ultimate findings. So far, she said, ``we have minimal evidence there's
a problem.''

The industry's Council for Responsible Nutrition also calls the worry
exaggerated, saying gland-containing supplements account for less than 1
percent of sales. Officials are trying to determine how much is imported
and plan to meet soon with FDA.

Meanwhile, what's a concerned consumer to think? The FDA's Robert Moore
suggests calling supplement makers to ask their source of animal tissue.
``Just as if they're buying a car they need to be active participants in
buying these things.''

Lurie is more blunt: ``I'm not taking any brain extracts, not a

EDITOR'S NOTE - Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for
The Associated Press in Washington.

On the Net: and

AP-NY-02-05-01 1422EST

Home | News | Organics | GE Food | Health | Environment | Food Safety | Fair Trade | Peace | Farm Issues | Politics
Español | Campaigns | Buying Guide | Press | Search | Donate | About Us | Contact Us

Organic Consumers Association - 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland MN 55603
E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
Please support our work. Send a tax-deductible donation to the OCA

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.