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    Riding Herd on Mad Cow Disease


    Going beyond FDA mandates is not unusual, adds Healy. "We think we're making the right call for our patients," she says. "These are very crude actions we're taking in the face of uncertainty, but hopefully they are only temporary steps until we get a test to screen blood."

    Other consumer advocates maintain that there still are significant gaps in the U.S. safety net.

    "We are mainly worried about dietary supplements," explains Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, a deputy director of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and a member of the FDA expert advisory committee on BSE. "But we are also concerned about the high rate of noncompliance with federal regulations."

    According to a recent FDA investigation, about 28% of American plants that grind cattle parts were unable to ensure that those bits would not get mixed into cattle feed. The FDA also found that 20% of American feed mills, where the food is packaged, failed to include a label to warn livestock farmers about the presence of the ground animal parts.

    While it is forbidden to feed animal parts to cud chewing animals, such as sheep and cattle, because of mad cow disease, federal law still permits the feed to be made for poultry.

    Since no cases of mad cow disease have been documented here, these facts do not necessarily mean that the U.S. inevitably will suffer from a mad cow epidemic, Lurie says. However, he says, these facts do demonstrate that federal regulators have failed to exercise their full authority.

    This lack of enforcement is especially evident in terms of vaccines, for which the FDA has chosen to issue a guidance document rather than new regulations, Lurie says. "The FDA, unfortunately, has the predilection for giving advice rather than regulation," Lurie tells WebMD.

    But considering that these regulations were passed just three years ago, Lumpkin says these figures demonstrate that American processors actually are moving toward 100% compliance with FDA regulations. Lumpkin says that the FDA often elects to issue guidance documents rather than regulations because the rule-making process takes considerable time.

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