- WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. cattle
are eating chicken litter, cattle blood and restaurant leftovers that could
help transmit mad-cow disease - a gap in the defences that the Bush administration
promised to close nearly 18 months ago.
- "Once the cameras were turned off and the media
coverage dissipated, then it's been business as usual, no real reform,
just keep feeding slaughterhouse waste," said John Stauber, an activist
and co-author of Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?
- Loopholes in the defence
- He contended that "the entire U.S. policy is designed
to protect the livestock industry's access to slaughterhouse waste as cheap
- The Food and Drug Administration promised to tighten
feed rules shortly after the first case of mad cow disease was confirmed
in the United States in a Washington cow in December, 2003.
- "Today we are bolstering our BSE firewalls to protect
the public," Mark McClellan, then-FDA commissioner, said on Jan. 26,
2004. The FDA said it would ban blood, poultry litter and restaurant-plate
waste from cattle feed and require feed mills to use separate equipment
to make cattle feed.
- Last July, however, the FDA scrapped those restrictions.
Mr. McClellan's replacement, Lester Crawford, said international experts
were calling for even stronger rules and that the FDA would produce new
restrictions in line with the experts' report.
- Today, the FDA still has not done what it promised to
do. The agency declined interviews, saying in a statement only that there
is no timeline for new restrictions.
- "It's just a lot of talk," said Rosa DeLauro,
a senior congressional Democrat on food and farm issues. "It's a lot
of talk, a lot of press releases, and no action."
- Unlike other infections, bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE) - as mad-cow disease is known officially) - does not spread through
the air. As far as scientists know, cows contract the disease only by eating
brain and other nerve tissues of already-infected cows.
- Ground-up cattle remains left over from slaughtering
operations were used as protein in cattle feed until 1997, when a mad-cow
outbreak in Britain prompted the United States to order the feed industry
to quit doing it. Unlike Britain, however, the U.S. feed ban has exceptions.
- For example, it is legal to put ground-up cattle remains
in chicken feed. Feed that spills from cages mixes with chicken waste on
the ground, then is swept up for use in cattle feed.
- Scientists believe the BSE protein will survive the feed-making
process and may even survive the trip through a chicken's gut.
- That amounts to the legal feeding of some cattle protein
back to cattle, said Linda Detwiler, a former Agriculture Department veterinarian
who led the department's work on mad cow for several years.
- "I would stipulate it's probably not a real common
thing, and the amounts are pretty small," Ms. Detwiler said.
- Still, if cattle protein is in the system, she said in
an interview, it is being fed to cattle.
- Cattle protein can also be fed to chickens, pigs and
household pets, which presents the risk of accidental contamination in
a feed mill.
- The General Accountability Office, the investigative
arm of Congress, said last month that a feed mill, which it did not identify,
accidentally mixed banned protein into cattle feed. By the time inspectors
discovered the problem and the mill issued a recall, potentially contaminated
cattle feed had already been on the market for about a year, GAO said.
- Rendering companies contend that new restrictions would
be costly and create hazards from leftover waste. They say changes are
- "We process about 50 billion pounds of product annually
- in visual terms, that is a convoy of semi trucks, four lanes wide, running
from New York to L.A. every year," said Jim Hodges, president of the
meatpacking industry's American Meat Institute Foundation.
- While new restrictions stalled, the administration also
ignored the advice of its own experts to close the loopholes before allowing
Canadian cattle back into the United States.
- Cattle trade "should not resume unless and until"
loopholes in the feed ban are closed, according to an internal Agriculture
Department memo, written by its working group of BSE experts in the Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service, dated June 15, 2003, shortly after
Canada's first case of mad-cow disease.
- The ranchers' group, R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America,
obtained the memo as part of its lawsuit against the department.
- Even though the loopholes remain, the Agriculture Department
late last year approved reopening the border. Only a federal judge in Montana
is keeping the border closed. He sided with R-CALF, which fears another
infected cow shipped south might be carrying the disease, just like the
lone U.S. case found in Washington state in 2003.
- Today, the department maintains that much has been learned
since the memo was written. Lisa Ferguson, senior staff veterinarian for
the department, said the memo did not mean the government thought the feed
ban was inadequate "or anything other than what it was, a group of
suggestions from a group of employees at that point in time."
- "Is our feed ban completely perfect and absolutely
airtight?" she said. "No, I don't think anybody would claim that.
Could changes be made? Yes, changes can be made."
- Loopholes in cattle feed
- * Ground-up cattle remains can be fed to chicken, and
chicken litter is fed back to cattle. Poultry feed that spills from cages
mixes with chicken waste on the ground, then is swept up for use in cattle
feed. Scientists believe the BSE protein will survive the feed-making process
and may survive being digested in chickens.
- * Cattle blood can be fed to cattle and often comes in
the form of milk replacement for calves. Some scientists believe blood
from infected cattle could transmit the disease.
- * Restaurant leftovers, called "plate waste,"
are allowed in cattle feed. Cuts of meat that contain part of the spinal
cord, or become contaminated by spinal tissue while being prepared, could
be infected with BSE.
- * Factories are not required to use separate production
lines and equipment for feed that contains cattle remains and feed that
does not, creating the risk that cattle remains could accidentally go into
- * Besides being fed to poultry, cattle protein is allowed
in feed for pigs and household pets, creating the possibility it could
mistakenly be fed to cattle.
- * Unfiltered tallow, or fat, is allowed in cattle feed,
yet it has protein impurities that could be a source of mad cow disease.
- - Associated Press
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