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FDA Proposes New Rules to Avoid 'Mad Cow'

Rules Would Cover All Animal Food, Including Pet Food
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WebMD Health News

Oct. 4, 2005 -- The FDA is proposing changes to animal feed regulations to try to protect the U.S. food supply from mad cow disease.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a transmissible, fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of adult cattle.

The FDA's proposed new rules would ban the food or feed of all animals (including pet food) from containing certain high-risk cattle materials that can potentially carry the infectious agent that causes mad cow disease.

Most of the proposed rules are already in place for cattle feed. Extending the rules to all animals is designed to reduce the odds that cattle might get exposed to possible BSE sources in feed intended for other animals.

No new cases -- or possible cases -- of mad cow disease are noted by the FDA.

No cases of a human version of mad cow disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) have been contracted in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Proposed New Rules

The high-risk cattle materials that the FDA would ban from all animal food are:

  • Brains and spinal cords from cattle at least 30 months old
  • Brains and spinal cords from cattle of any age not inspected and passed for human consumption
  • The entire carcass of cattle not inspected and passed for human consumption if the brains and spinal cords have not been removed
  • Rendered fat from cow and sheep made from the materials prohibited by the FDA's proposed rule if this rendered fat, called tallow, contains more than 0.15% insoluble impurities
  • Mechanically separated beef that is derived from the materials prohibited by the FDA's proposed rule

All of the proposed prohibitions except for those related to tallow have applied to cattle feed since 1997, says the FDA.

The FDA is taking comments on the proposal until Dec. 19. The rules will "very likely" go into effect in 2006, Stephen Sundlof, DVM, PhD, told reporters in a conference call. Sundlof is the director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Risk is 'Very, Very Low'

The USDA has tested nearly 400,000 cattle for mad cow disease since June 2004. Only one case of BSE has been found since then. This was in a 12-year-old cow born before the U.S. feed ban was implemented in 1997. The only other case of mad cow disease in the U.S. was discovered in 2003.

"Greater than 400,000 cattle at high risk were tested for BSE [by the USDA] and only one native-born animal was found to have this disease," Stephen Sundlof, DVM, PhD, told reporters.

"This indicates that the amount of infectivity circulating in the United States cattle population is very, very low. This proposed rule removes 90% of any remaining infectivity in that population, therefore reducing a very, very small risk to [an] even smaller [risk]."

Cows younger than 30 months don't appear to have the infectious agent believed to cause mad cow disease at high enough concentrations to spread the disease to other cattle, Sundlof said.

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