WASHINGTON, DC, March 15, 2005 (ENS):
U.S. cattle are "at risk of spreading" mad
cow disease because of weaknesses in a federal government
program to keep certain kinds of banned animal protein
out of cattle feed, Congressional investigators said
in a report made public today.
More than five million cattle across Europe have been
killed to stop the spread of mad cow disease, formally
called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Found
in 26 countries, including Canada and the United States,
BSE is believed to spread through animal feed that contains
protein from BSE infected animals. Consuming meat from
infected cattle has also been linked to the deaths of
about 150 people worldwide.
In its report, the Government Accountability Office
(GAO) said weaknesses in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) program for keeping nervous system tissue of ruminant
animals out of cattle feed "continue to limit the
effectiveness" of a 1997 ban on feeding this material
In a February 25 letter to the Congressmen and Senators
who requested the report, GAO Managing Director, Natural
Resources and Environment, Robert Robinson acknowledged
that the FDA does not agree with many of the conclusions
of his report and warned against taking FDA reports
to mean that the industry is in compliance with the
"FDA believes that it already reports inspection
results in a complete and accurate context, as we recommend.
We disagree," wrote Robinson. "As noted above,
given the data concerns and compliance unknowns raised
in this report, FDA’s data should not be used
to project industry compliance."
The ban was established to keep infectious prions out
of cattle feed. Known to cause BSE, these prions are
misfolded proteins most likely to be found in the brain,
spinal cord and small intestines of infected animals.
The FDA has made needed improvements to its management
and oversight of the feed-ban rule in response to GAO’s
2002 report, but the Congressional investigators say,
program weaknesses "continue to undermine the nation’s
firewall against BSE," the GAO reports.
FDA acknowledges that there are more feed manufacturers
and transporters, on-farm mixers, and other feed industry
businesses that are subject to the feed ban than the
approximately 14,800 firms inspected to date; however,
it has no uniform approach for identifying additional
FDA has not reinspected approximately 2,800, or about
19 percent, of those businesses, in five or more years;
several hundred are potentially high risk. FDA does
not know whether those businesses now use prohibited
material in their feed.
FDA’s feed-ban inspection guidance does not include
instructions to routinely sample cattle feed to test
for potentially prohibited material as part of the compliance
inspection. Instead, it includes guidance for inspectors
to visually examine facilities and equipment and review
invoices and other documents.
Feed intended for export is not required to carry a
caution label “Do not feed to cattle or other
ruminants,” when the label would be required if
the feed were sold domestically. Without that statement,
feed containing prohibited material could be inadvertently
or intentionally diverted back to U.S. cattle or given
to foreign cattle.
FDA has not always alerted the U.S. Department of Agriculture
and states when it learned that cattle may have been
given feed that contained prohibited material. This
lapse has been occurring even though FDA’s guidance
calls for such communication.
Although research suggests that cattle can get BSE
from ingesting even a small amount of infected material,
inspectors do not routinely inspect or review cleanout
procedures for vehicles used to haul cattle feed.
On the positive side, the FDA has established a uniform
method of conducting compliance inspections and training
FDA inspectors, as well as state inspectors who carry
out inspections under agreements with FDA, on the new
The FDA has also implemented new data-entry procedures
that are designed to more reliably track feed-ban inspection
Consequently, the GAO says, the Food and Drug Administration
has a better management tool for overseeing compliance
with the feed-ban rule and a data system that better
conforms to standard database management practices.
The Congressional investigators recommend that the
FDA, among other things, develop procedures for finding
additional firms subject to the feed-ban and using tests
to augment inspections.
The FDA responded that the study was thorough but disagreed
on four of nine recommendations.
The GAO said it "continues to believe that, given
the discovery of BSE in North America and the oversight
gaps described in the report, the recommended actions
are needed to protect U.S. cattle from BSE."
The GAO report is found at: http://www.gao.gov/docsearch/repandtest.html
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All