In its latest reaction to the December discovery of mad cow disease in the United States, the federal government announced new proposals to combat the spread of the disease. At press time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was considering banning blood and blood products, along with poultry litter, in cow feed. It also was considering a requirement that ruminants? feed be kept separate from other animals? feed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also plans to implement a system of animal identification, which could help trace the source of any future cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the medical name for the brain-wasting disease. One option for such a system, which has been researched for more than a year, would use implanted electronic chips to track cattle through their lifetime. Other possibilities for electronic animal tracking include using bar codes or radio transponders. Bill Bullard, chief executive of R-CALF USA, a cattle producers? association, said although the new feed bans are necessary and must be strongly enforced, the animal identification system could prove onerous for cattle producers to implement.
?An electronic system could be very costly—in fact, cost-prohibitive,? he said. Bullard suggested that since this is a national food-security issue, the U.S. government should foot the bill for such a system. The Bush administration has proposed a $441 million budget for national food-security programs, part of which would go toward fighting the spread of BSE. Matt Baun, spokesman for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the department is weighing options for the best use of the money, if the appropriation is approved.
In January, the USDA implemented a ban on using high-risk materials, including the small intestine, brain, eyeballs and spinal column of cattle, in animal feed.
Even as the USDA focuses on keeping animal feed free of mad cow disease, another FDA proposal could affect what humans may consume. It has banned several bovine-derived materials from human foods, cosmetics and dietary supplements. Since several supplements contain glands or organs derived from cows, some companies might have to use pig, chicken or vegetarian sources for their products. Annette Dickinson, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, said she doesn?t expect this to make a huge impact down the line, saying the industry can always look for new, less risky animals to use.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 3/p. 18