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December 14, 2004
Cantwell and Washington Agriculture Leaders Urge FDA
to Close Mad-Cow Feed Ban Loopholes
Almost one year after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease,
FDA rules announced last January still not implemented
SEATTLE, WA – Just days from the one year anniversary of the first
discovery of mad cow disease in the United States, U.S. Senator Maria
Cantwell (D-WA) and Washington agriculture leaders are urging the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration to close loopholes in the mad cow feed ban
that the agency promised to close last January but has still left open.
In a letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford and Health and
Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Cantwell called on the FDA to
impose the new rules that it announced over 10 months ago in order to
maintain international confidence in U.S. beef.
"The beef industry and other federal agencies have worked overtime to
restore confidence in the world's safest beef supply, but the FDA has
failed to act on its promise to close loopholes in the mad cow feed
ban," Cantwell said. "After nearly a full year of empty promises, the
time has come for the FDA to provide more than lip service. We produce
the world's safest beef, but in order to reopen international markets
and fully maintain public confidence, we must demonstrate beyond a
shadow of doubt that they can continue to rely on the safety of our beef
supply. Closing these loopholes is one important step towards
accomplishing that goal."
Cantwell said there are three key reasons that the FDA should
follow-through on its promise to close the mad-cow loopholes (also see
"Loopholes At-A-Glance" below):
1. Reduce the risk of mad-cow disease : Closing these loopholes is an
important part of reducing the risk of exposing cattle to the
proteins which cause mad cow disease in the first place. As the
FDA itself said when it announced the rules on January 26, 2004,
the rules "lower even further the risk that cattle will be
purposefully or inadvertently fed prohibited protein. It was the
feeding of such protein to cattle that was the route of disease
transmission that led to the BSE epidemic in United Kingdom cattle
in the 1980's and 1990's." In addition, in a July 14 agency
publication, the agency stated that "FDA believes the measures
previously announced would serve to reduce the already small risk
of BSE spread through animal feed." The Mabton cow was proven to
have been infected from contaminated feed.
2. Reassure international markets : Following through on the federal
government's promise to close the loopholes will help reassure
international markets. 55 international markets remain closed or
partially closed to Washington state beef. As of September 2004,
exports from Washington have fallen by 96% compared to 2003 - a
market loss of over $260 million.
3. Maintain consumer confidence : Consumers in the United States
should have confidence that the federal government is doing
everything possible to maintain our position as the world's safest
producer of beef. The FDA promised nearly one year ago to
implement these new rules and the time to act has long since
passed. Consumer confidence is critical to the health of the beef
industry. According to USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service,
"Failure to assure consumer confidence in the U.S. beef supply
could easily reduce cash receipts to the cattle sector by $5 to
$10 billion annually. Net farm income could decline by $3 to $6
The loophole closures were endorsed by an international panel of expert
scientists convened by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Harvard
Center for Risk Analysis at the Harvard Center for Public Health, the
World Health Organizations, and organizations such as the Food Marketing
Institute, the National Restaurant Association, and the Consumers Union.
"The FDA shouldn't waste any more time enacting these long-promised
rules," said Valoria Loveland, director of the Washington State
Department of Agriculture. "We've come such a long way in the last year
toward improving our food safety procedures. It just doesn't make sense
to leave an important detail like this unresolved."
On January 26, 2004, then FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan and HHS
Secretary Tommy Thompson told reporters that the FDA would issue an
interim final rule closing the loopholes. However, despite its promises,
the FDA took no action.
In April, Senator Cantwell challenged the FDA to keep its promise and
close the loopholes. At the time, the Seattle Times editorial page
opined that "the agency's foot-dragging at putting the rules into effect
is not helping the difficult task of restoring the confidence of about
50 foreign countries that banned U.S. beef after the infected Mabton
Holstein was discovered in December."
As of December 14, 2004, the FDA still has not closed the loopholes. In
fact, in July, the FDA publicly changed its tune - albeit buried deep in
an Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking. "FDA decided not to issue an
interim final rule with the changes to the feed ban described in the
January 26 announcement."
In addition to urging FDA to enact its rules, Senator Cantwell has
introduced legislation in the Senate (S.2051, The Animal Feed Protection
Act) that would close the loopholes.
In January, the FDA announced that it would issue an interim rule that
was " designed to lower even further the risk that cattle will be
purposefully or inadvertently fed prohibited protein. It was the feeding
of such protein to cattle that was the route of disease transmission
that led to the BSE epidemic in United Kingdom cattle in the 1980's and
Of course, the interim rule was never imposed. Nonetheless, in the FDA's
1. "This interim final rule will implement four specific changes in
FDA's present animal feed rule. First, the rule will eliminate the
present exemption in the feed rule that allows mammalian blood and
blood products to be fed to other ruminants as a protein source.
Recent scientific evidence suggests that blood can carry some
infectivity for BSE."
2. "Second, the rule will also ban the use of "poultry litter" as a
feed ingredient for ruminant animals. Poultry litter consists of
bedding, spilled feed, feathers, and fecal matter that are
collected from living quarters where poultry is raised. This
material is then used in cattle feed in some areas of the country
where cattle and large poultry raising operations are located near
each other. Poultry feed may legally contain protein that is
prohibited in ruminant feed, such as bovine meat and bone meal.
The concern is that spillage of poultry feed in the chicken house
occurs and that poultry feed (which may contain protein prohibited
in ruminant feed) is then collected as part of the "poultry
litter" and added to ruminant feed."
3. "Third, the rule will ban the use of "plate waste" as a feed
ingredient for ruminants. Plate waste consists of uneaten meat and
other meat scraps that are currently collected from some large
restaurant operations and rendered into meat and bone meal for
animal feed. The use of "plate waste" confounds FDA's ability to
analyze ruminant feeds for the presence of prohibited proteins,
compromising the Agency's ability to fully enforce the animal feed
4. "Fourth, the rule will further minimize the possibility of
cross-contamination of ruminant and non-ruminant animal feed by
requiring equipment, facilities or production lines to be
dedicated to non-ruminant animal feeds if they use protein that is
prohibited in ruminant feed. Currently, some equipment, facilities
and production lines process or handle prohibited and
non-prohibited materials and make both ruminant and non-ruminant
feed -- a practice which could lead to cross-contamination."
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