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 to cattle.
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 feed ban.
"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
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
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
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 method.
The FDA has also implemented new data-entry procedures that are
designed to more reliably track feed-ban inspection results.
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
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
The GAO report is found at: http://www.gao.gov/docsearch/repandtest.html
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