CSPI Urges Reforms to Minimize Exposure to BSE; Bush Administration "Failed to Deliver" on Promises

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal


In all probability, a small number of BSE-infected animals are circulating in North America, and it is prudent to assume that some are entering the feed and food chain.  While consumers' risk of contracting the human form of the disease is minuscule, USDA and FDA should nevertheless implement steps to ensure that human and animal exposure to the agent that causes the disease is further minimized.  We shouldn't react to Mad Cow disease in fits and starts as more cattle test positive.  We should assume that some will test positive, but we shouldn't wait to protect the food supply.  

The Bush Administration has failed to deliver on many of the promises it made when the first case of BSE was discovered.  FDA should immediately implement long-promised regulations to strengthen the 1997 feed ban by eliminating plate waste, poultry litter, and cattle blood from cattle feed.  Cattle evolved to eat grass, not garbage.  In addition, the FDA should ban cattle parts from all animal feed, to further reduce the risk of the disease spreading to more cattle.  

An animal identification system is important to track cows that may have contracted BSE at the same time as any cows that test positive.  USDA should phase in a requirement that cattle producers only market animals whose age and origin can be tracked.  Most costs of this tracking system should be born by the beef industry. Low-cost forms of animal identification used in other countries include ear tags and tattoos.  

While USDA has banned spinal and neck bones from animals 30 months and older from human food production and has promised to test more meat from "Advanced Meat Recovery" systems, those actions are not enough.  USDA should ban all spinal and neck bones from food production, including AMR systems, and it should finalize a ban on downer cattle. These are reforms that would benefit both consumers, who want to be confident in the safety of their food, and the beef industry, which is suffering from importers' bans on American beef.

That said, the risk of contracting the human form of BSE is exceedingly small.  In England, where beef-eating consumers may have been exposed many times during the early 1990s, when the epidemic in the cattle population peaked, only around 150 consumers contracted the disease.  While the disease is horrible and inevitably fatal, it is nonetheless quite rare even in England.

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