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USDA Beefs Up Meat Safety Precautions

New Restrictions to Add Extra Layer of Protection Against Mad Cow Disease
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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 disease.
  • 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 also prohibited.

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.

Adding Extra Layer of Safety

Officials say many of the changes announced today have been in the works since the first case of mad cow disease was found in Canada in May in order to better monitor the beef supply.

"These actions do not suggest in any way that that meat produced under the current system is unsafe," says Ron DeHaven, DVM, chief veterinary officer at the USDA. "For years, we have had a feed ban in place, high-risk materials from this infected cow were removed, and the meat produced on the day that this positive cow was slaughtered is being recalled.

"Just like with the meat recall, we are making these further enhancements to our system out of an abundance of caution," says DeHaven.

DeHaven says the exact details of how the new measures will affect the USDA inspection process and screening for mad cow disease are yet to be worked out. For example, it's unclear whether downer animals will be allowed to be rendered and used in the production of animal feed, which falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

"Those are kinds of details that are yet to be resolved," says DeHaven.

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