Weaknesses Found in U.S. Mad Cow Feed Ban

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.

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The feed given to cattle is not supposed to contain the nervous system tissue of other ruminant animals. (Photo courtesy Newaygo County MSU Extension)
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, FDAs 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 GAOs 2002 report, but the Congressional investigators say, program weaknesses "continue to undermine the nations firewall against BSE," the GAO reports.

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.

Chambliss

Senator Saxby Chambliss chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and was one of the legislators who requested this GAO report. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
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 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