11 July 2004

From Yesterday's Dallas Morning News

Bans on cattle feed debated

Officials say new limits not needed; critics say consumers are at risk


Six months after promising to remove chicken waste, food scraps and blood from cattle feed systems, federal officials said Friday they aren't sure whether the bans are needed.

The restrictions were announced in January soon after mad cow disease was found in a Holstein in Washington state.

But the rules were not instituted and are now up for public comment along with other possible feed restrictions, including bans on animals that die on farms or can't stand up when they're taken to a slaughterhouse.

The earliest any of the rules under consideration could be instituted would be the end of the year.

Federal regulators say that if cows with suspicious symptoms are kept out of the system, there should be no worries about specific products.

"Based on all of the measures that have been offered, if we did some of these, would we need to do all of them?" asked Dr. Steven Sundlof. The director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine with the Food and Drug Administration spoke during a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Critics of the feed practices say the government has caved in to the meat industry and the exceptions put consumers at risk of mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

"This is something that could have a health impact," said Tom McGarity, a professor of food safety law at the University of Texas Law School and president of the Center for Progressive Regulation. "American consumers will remain unprotected as ranchers and feedlots continue to feed cow blood to calves and potentially contaminated chicken litter to cattle for the foreseeable future."

Calves are fed blood because the milk that is produced is sold to human consumers.

Chicken litter is a cheap, readily available feed, and plate waste is food left over at restaurants that is sent to rendering plants and added to feed.

Carol Tucker Foreman, food policy director of the Consumer Federation of America, said she didn't understand why the government didn't ban poultry litter and cows' blood as cattle food now and make adjustments later if more stringent rules are put in place.

"Instead they choose to do nothing," she said.

Richard Wortham, executive vice president of the Texas Beef Council, said the meat industry is just "trying to protect the food supply. If there are any additional safeguards that need to take place, they need to be based on science."

The FDA did enact one ban Friday: Brains and other cattle parts that could carry mad cow will no longer be used in cosmetics and dietary supplements.

Those cattle parts are not in the food supply because of an Agriculture Department ban.

The ban affects products made from animals 30 months of age and older, which the government says are more at risk.

A loophole for tallow remains. Tallow is a processed fat made from cattle that is used in cosmetics, but the FDA said that the high heat and pressure used to make it minimize the risk.

Consumer groups applauded the cosmetic and supplement decision.

"I think taking the steps to keep specified risk materials out of FDA-regulated food and dietary supplements and cosmetics is a worthwhile thing to do," said Ms. Tucker Foreman.

"But if you're talking about reducing risk, it would reduce risk a lot more by dealing with the feed issues."

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