USDA Beefs Up Meat Safety Precautions
New Restrictions to Add Extra Layer of Protection Against Mad Cow Disease
Dec. 30, 2003 -- In response to the first case of mad cow
disease found on American soil, the USDA today announced "aggressive"
new measures designed to further protect the food supply from the disease.
"While we are confident that the United States has
safeguards and firewalls needed to protect public health, these additional
actions will further strengthen our protection systems," says Agriculture
Secretary Ann Veneman.
The new restrictions include banning cows unable to walk on
their own from the U.S. food supply as well as brains or other high-risk
components from cows older than 30 months.
Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE), is a disease that affects the brain and nervous system of cows and is
spread primarily through eating infected tissue.
Under the new restrictions, the infected dairy cow found in the
U.S. would not have been slaughtered at the Washington state facility because
it was unable to stand on its own, known as a "downer" cow. Veneman
estimates that downer cows account for about 150,000-200,000 of the 35 million
cows slaughtered annually in the U.S.
In addition, USDA inspectors will no longer mark cows as
"inspected and passed" for mad cow disease until test results confirm
that the animals have tested negative for the disease. Instead, these animals
will be held until the test results are back rather than allowing the meat to
enter the food supply.
Under the previous system, animals thought to be at increased
risk for the disease due to older age or downer status were selected for mad
cow disease screening but allowed to proceed through the slaughter process. In
the case of the infected cow in Washington, the meat was distributed to at
eight least states and later recalled.
New Meat Safety Regulations
Veneman says the new regulations will take effect immediately
and are similar to those implemented by other countries where mad cow disease
has been found.
Major changes include:
Downer animals: Any animal unable to walk on its own is banned from
entering the U.S. food supply.
Product holding: Animals selected for mad cow disease screening will
be held until test results confirm that the animal does not have the
High-risk parts: Brain, spinal cord, and other nervous
system-related tissue from cows older than 30 months are prohibited from
entering in the U.S. food supply. The small intestine of cattle of all ages is
Other changes affect the procedures during the slaughter
process in order to reduce the risk of spreading infected tissue.
Researchers say older cows are considered high-risk for mad cow
disease because they may have eaten contaminated feed prior to the protective
feed bans enacted in August 1997. In addition, once a cow is infected with mad
cow disease it takes 3-6 years before symptoms emerge.