Published on Wednesday, October 5, 2005 by the New York Times
U.S. Offers New Animal Feed Rules, but Critics Assail Them
by Donald McNeil
The Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules today to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, but the rules were considerably less strict than those proposed last year but never adopted, and critics promptly denounced them as inadequate.
The F.D.A. proposed banning from animal feed the brains and spinal cords of cows more than 30 months old. It also proposed banning the same parts of any animal not passed by inspectors as suitable for human food, any tallow that contained more than 0.15 percent protein and any meat contained in brain or spinal column that was separated from carcasses by machine.
The new proposal would still allow animals to be fed material that some scientists consider potentially infectious, including the brains and spinal cords of young animals; the eyes, tonsils, intestines and nerves of old animals; chicken food and chicken dung swept up from the floors of poultry farms; scrapings from restaurant plates; and calf milk made from cow blood and fat.
"The F.D.A. and the meat industry is totally committed to continuing the practice of feeding slaughterhouse waste to cows," said John Stauber, the author of Mad Cow, U.S.A., who has repeatedly called for a ban on feeding all animal protein to livestock. Meat processors like Cargill and Tyson Foods, he argued, also own rendering plants, want to keep exporting cheap protein or feeding it to their own animals and have lobbied hard to keep the right to do so.
Michael K. Hansen, an expert on prion diseases at the Consumers Union, called the proposed regulations "completely inadequate," noting that Britain "took many halfway steps in their efforts to eliminate mad cow disease and failed to stop it." Only when it stopped feeding mammals to food animals did they cut the cases down to less than 10 a year, he said.
Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, the F.D.A.'s director of veterinary medicine, who announced the proposed rule changes today, said they would remove 90 percent of the potential infectivity from animal food.
Since June 2004, he noted, the United States Department of Agriculture tested 484,000 cattle for the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and only one animal born in the United States had tested positive.
"This reduces a very, very low risk to even lower," he said.
His agency, he said, also considered the cost to the cattle and rendering industry.
Getting rid of just brains and spines from older cattle, he said, would create only 64 million pounds of waste that would have to be burned or buried at a cost of about $14 million.
Getting rid of the vertebrae, spines, nerves, eyes, intestines and other potentially infectious parts of all cattle including the meat attached to nerves attach would create more than two billion pounds of waste, which he said would be an environmental problem and a big expense for the industry, which he did not estimate.
In 1997, the F.D.A. banned feeding ruminants like cattle and sheep to other cattle and sheep, with a few exceptions like calf "milk replacement" made from cow blood.
But it is widely acknowledged that the ban is imperfect: Some farmers, deliberately or accidentally, give cows ruminant feed. Also, chickens can legally be fed cow protein and cows can then be fed spilled poultry litter; rendering plants and trucks contain ruminant and nonruminant feed, which can mix.
In early 2004, the F.D.A. proposed banning letting cows eat poultry litter and plate waste, but the rules were never adopted.
The rules proposed today, Dr. Sundlof said, will not be adopted until sometime next year, after a period of comment ends in mid-December.
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