WASHINGTON, DC, January 2, 2004 (ENS):
The Washington state dairy cow found to be infected
with mad cow disease in late December has sent federal
officials rushing to put in place a new set of regulations
in an attempt to keep the fatal brain wasting disease
out of the human food chain.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the new
rules Tuesday. Effectively immediately, she said, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will ban all downer
cattle from the human food chain. Downed animals cannot
walk on their own, one of the symptoms of mad cow disease,
formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
"We are extremely happy that the USDA is agreeing
to ban downed cattle from entering the human food chain,"
said Gene Bauston, president of Farm Sanctuary, a national
organization that has campaigned to ban the sale of
downed animals since 1986. "Removing downed animals
from the human food chain will give farmers the incentive
to prevent the problem in the first place. Ninety percent
of downed animals can be prevented with better care
on the farm."
Beef industry associations are behind the new rule.
“We wholeheartedly support the ban on disabled
cattle from entering the human food chain,” said
Dr. John Maas, who chairs the Cattle Health Committee
of the California Cattlemen's Association. “Past
efforts by USDA to ensure these disabled animals are
safe for human consumption cost too much in terms of
agency resources. We strongly urge USDA to implement
a system in which disabled cattle are humanely handled
and tested for BSE as well as other diseases as part
of their surveillance system.”
To prevent the entry into commerce of meat and meat
food products that are adulterated, USDA Food Safety
and Inspection Service inspectors already perform inspection
of cattle that are slaughtered in the United States
both before and after slaughter. There is no live animal
test for mad cow disease, but before death inspectors
look for signs of disease, including signs of central
nervous system impairment. Animals showing signs of
systemic disease are condemned. Meat from all condemned
animals has never been permitted for use as human food,
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as
mad cow disease and its human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
Disease (vCJD), are spread by prions - abnormally shaped
proteins that originate as regular components of neurological
tissues in animals - they are not cellular organisms
or viruses, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Mad cow disease spreads from one animal to another
by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by
these proteins, such as blood or meat meal, that contains
nervous system tissue from an infected animal. The human
form of the disease can be transmitted if a human being
eats BSE infected meat, or possibly through blood transfusions.
Since August 1997, a feed ban has been in place in
the United States that prohibits the feeding of protein
from cattle back to other cattle. But several of the
loopholes in the system are being filled by the new
The USDA will continue its BSE surveillance program,
Veneman said, but inspectors will no longer mark cattle
tested for BSE as “inspected and passed”
until confirmation is received that the animals have,
in fact, tested negative for the disease. This new policy
will be in the form of an interpretive rule that will
be published in the Federal Register.
In the past two years, USDA inspectors have tested approximately
20,000 of the 40 million cows slaughtered annually in
the United States, about one in every 2,000 animals.
This is 47 times the recommended international standard,
the USDA says.
The major concern for consumers is the potential contamination
of meat products by brain and spinal cord tissue during
routine slaughter. This indirect intake of high risk
tissues may have been the source of human illnesses
in the United Kingdom, where 153 people have died from
To help prevent high risk tissues from entering the
human food chain, Veneman said the USDA will enhance
its regulations by declaring as specified risk materials
skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia, eyes, vertebral column,
spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of cattle over 30
months of age and the small intestine of cattle of all
ages. These tissues will be prohibited in addition to
brain, spinal column, and intestinal tissue which are
already banned for human consumption.
These classifications are consistent with the actions
taken by Canada after the discovery of BSE in May in
one Alberta cow.
In an interim final rule, the USDA Food Safety and
Inspection Service (FSIS) will require federally inspected
establishments that slaughter cattle to develop, implement,
and maintain procedures to remove, segregate, and dispose
of these specified risk materials so that they cannot
possibly enter the food chain, Veneman said.
State inspected plants must have equivalent procedures
Veneman also announced changes to an industrial technology
known as advanced meat recovery. This technology removes
muscle tissue from the bone of beef carcasses under
high pressure without incorporating bone material when
operated properly. The USDA permits products of the
advanced meat recovery process to be labeled as “meat.”
Currently, spinal cord tissue is banned from being
included in products labeled as “meat.”
The new regulation expands that prohibition to include
dorsal root ganglia, clusters of nerve cells connected
to the spinal cord along the vertebrae column. Like
spinal cord, the dorsal root ganglia may also contain
BSE infectivity if the animal is infected. In addition,
because the vertebral column and skull in cattle 30
months and older will be considered inedible, they cannot
be used for advanced meat recovery.
In the new interim final rule announced Tuesday, meat
processing establishments will have to ensure control
through verification testing to ensure that neither
spinal cord nor dorsal root ganglia is present in their
In addition, the USDA will prohibit use of mechanically
separated meat in human food.
Air injection stunning is banned by the new regulations,
although most of the beef industry has already stopped
using this process.
Until recently a method of stunning that injects compressed
air into the animal's cranium was used to disrupt the
brain structure and induce total and prolonged unconsciousness,
which is intended to insure that cattle are slaughtered
in a humane manner. But air injection stunning has been
shown to force large pieces of brain, into the circulatory
system of stunned cattle. These brain parts can lodge
in edible tissues.
"To ensure that portions of the brain are not
dislocated into the tissues of the carcass as a consequence
of humanely stunning cattle during the slaughter process,
FSIS is issuing a regulation to ban the practice of
air injection stunning," Veneman said.
All these new rules will be effective upon publication
in the Federal Register.
Veneman also announced that the USDA will begin immediate
implementation of a verifiable system of national animal
identification. The development of such a system has
been under way for more than 18 months to achieve uniformity,
consistency and efficiency across this national system.
But the organizers of the annual international observance
Meatout, the nonprofit group Farm Animal Reform Movement,
say these measures are too little, too late.
"The government has no basis for claiming that
Americans do not consume meat products containing spinal
column and brain tissue, traditional carriers of the
disease," the organization said in a statement
today. "During slaughter, muscle tissues are routinely
sprayed with bits of these tissues. T-bone steaks, hamburgers,
hot dogs, and beef fillings and toppings contain skeletal
fragments, including the spinal column. Beef stock,
extract, and flavoring are made by boiling skeletal
remains," according to the Meatout statement.
On December 23, 2003 Veneman reported that a cow in
Mabton, Washington in the Yakima Valley tested positive
for BSE. Two herds in the area including the mad cow's
herd have been under quarantine from that date. Today
a third herd was placed in quarantine.
An investigation is underway to trace the infected
animal to a herd of origin, which is believed to be
located in Alberta, Canada, as well as track additional
animals that have entered the United States.
The USDA today confirmed that 81 of the 82 animals
listed on the Canadian health certificate that includes
the eartag number of the infected cow entered the United
States through Oroville, Washington, on September 4,
2001. One of those 82 has now been located at a Mattawa,
Washington dairy operation, which is now under a state
Ron DeHaven is chief veterinarian for the U.S. Agriculture
Department. (Photo courtesy USDA)
USDA officials are working with their Canadian counterparts
to conduct DNA testing to verify that the correct animal
has been identified, USDA Chief Veterinarian Ron DeHaven
told reporters at a briefing Wednesday. Results may
be available as early as the first week in January.
The agency says its interest in finding those cows is
not because BSE can spread from cow to cow, but because
it is possible they shared a common feed source when
young. Since 1989, USDA has banned imports of live ruminants
and most ruminant products from the United Kingdom and
other countries having BSE, but not from Canada where
BSE had not been found until May 2003.
Based on the experience of the United Kingdom where
BSE was first detected in 1986, the USDA said today
that other infected animals may be found. "Even
at the height of the outbreak in the United Kingdom,
it was uncommon to have more than just one or two infected
cattle in the same herd," the agency said.
During the height of the BSE outbreak in the United
Kingdom from 1989 through 1999, approximately 185,000
cases of the disease were reported, according to the
Office International des Epizooties (OIE), an intergovernmental
organization based in Paris.
Veneman has called for a team of international experts
to review the U.S. investigation and make recommendations,
and Dehaven told reporters that the team would be similar
to the group that conducted such a review in Canada.
It will be led by Dr. Ulrich Kihm, former chief veterinary
officer of Switzerland, DeHaven said. In addition to
Kihm, USDA has tentative commitments from William Hueston,
director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety,
University of Minnesota; Dagmar Heim, chief of the BSE
control program in the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office;
and Stuart MacDiarmid, a BSE expert with the government
of New Zealand.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights