More Mad Cow Likely, Panel Warns

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By Terri Swan


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Ann Veneman appointed an international panel after mad cow disease was reported in a cow in the state of Washington in December 2003. The cow was imported from Alberta, Canada in 2001. The international panel recently released its recommendations, saying that more cases of mad cow disease in the U.S. were probable.

The panel said that to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, the U.S. government should ban all cattle brains and spinal material for use in livestock feed and pet food. Brain, spinal cord or nervous system tissue is called specified risk material, and the panel called for this material to be excluded from all animal feed, including pet food.

There's a "high probability" other infected cattle may have been imported from Canada and possibly Europe, according to the panel, so they said any contaminated material "has likely" made its way into the cattle feed.

Currently, brain and spinal cords from cattle over the age of 30 months are banned from human food. The panel suggested that USDA should instead consider banning this material in human food from cattle over 12 months of age.

The panel said that the government should ban meat and bone meal from rendered animals and all other animal protein from cattle feed. This is justified partly due to issues of cross-contamination, the panel said.

Finally, the panel recommended that the United States should test all "at risk" cattle over 30 months of age. Old animals that die at the farm would also be included in this group; testing these cows may require a financial incentive to farmers.

The USDA already plans to test 40,000 cattle this year for mad cow disease, which is double the number tested last year.

Stephen Sundlof, director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)'s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the FDA has made no decisions on whether they will follow the panel's recommendations. He cites a 2001 risk analysis from Harvard University which concludes that existing U.S. safeguard were adequate to deal with mad cow disease.


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