Despite Third Mad Cow, Administration Promises Still Unkept
Animal ID System, Cattle Feed Rules Long Overdue, but Stalled by Industry Influence, Says CSPI
Despite the discovery of three cows infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, long overdue measures to ensure the safety of the food supply and to keep foreign markets open to American beef have been stalled, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In a report coauthored with OMB Watch and Consumer Federation of America, CSPI says special-interest lobbying at federal agencies and at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) helped keep reforms, such as a nationwide animal identification system and a strong regulation governing cattle feed, from being finalized.
The report identifies 10 closed-door meetings that staff at OMB, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, have held with the meat and feed industry, and points out that the senior levels of the Bush Administration’s Department of Agriculture are filled with former industry insiders. The groups are calling on Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns to jump start the stalled animal identification system and the Food and Drug Administration to finalize a rule preventing animal feed from being contaminated with mammalian blood, so-called “chicken litter,” and other animal-containing products that could pass on the prions that cause BSE.
“We don’t need another mad cow to tell us how weak the United States’ cattle tracking system is,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “While Canada can quickly track all cattle that may have eaten infected feed, USDA has refused to mandate a similar system in the U.S.”
“Once again, we see the Bush administration putting corporate special interests over the public interest, when it comes to mad cow disease,” said J. Robert Shull, director of regulatory policy at OMB Watch. “We can expect more broken promises and weak protections as long as the administration continues to put foxes in the henhouse and give special interests a hotline that goes straight to the White House.”
OMB officials met with the North American Casing Association, National By-Products, the National Renderers Association, the American Feed Industry Association, the Pet Food Industry association, the American Meat Institute, the National Grain and Feed Assocition, and other meat-related companies and trade associations, on BSE-related policies from August 2002 to October 2005.
In addition to the animal identification system and the feed rule, the groups also recommend increasing survillance by testing all cattle showing signs of central nervous system disease, as well as cattle 30 months or older. Healthy cattle 20 to 30 months old should be randomly, but less intensively, screened for BSE, the groups say.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).