FDA to add new BSE-related feed rules soon

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Sep 22, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said this week the agency will soon align its rules on animal feed more closely with those in Canada and Europe, signaling a likelihood of new restrictions to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

The United States and Canada both ban the use of cattle parts in feed for cattle and other ruminant animals but allow cattle parts in feed for other animals such as pigs and poultry. However, Canada plans to ban the use of high-risk cattle parts, such as the brain and spinal cord of cattle older than 30 months, in all animal feeds in the near future. Europe already bans high-risk parts, called specified-risk materials (SRMs), from all animal feeds.

In July 2004 the FDA said it had reached a "preliminary" decision to ban SRMs from all animal feed, as recommended by an international panel of experts after the first US BSE case surfaced in December 2003. The agency promised to develop a proposal to that effect. SRMs are the tissues most likely to contain the abnormal proteins associated with BSE in infected animals.

FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford's comments in a Sep 19 speech now suggest the agency is about to go ahead with the plan, though he gave no date.

Crawford said the new rules will be "quite a bit stronger" than initially planned, according to a Sep 19 Bloomberg News report on his speech to the Consumer Federation of America. He said the rules will be similar to those in Europe and Canada.

"Our regulation will mimic theirs and it will supersede earlier considerations," Crawford was quoted as saying.

Will D. Hueston, DVM, a University of Minnesota professor who served on the expert panel that advised the US government about responses to the first BSE case, said Crawford's comments probably mean the FDA will ban SRMs from all animal feeds.

"I think it means they'll take additional action to remove SRMs from animal feeds—I think they' really targeting the high-risk materials, the brain and spinal cord," Hueston told CIDRAP News. "They're actively collaborating with Canada to try to get a uniform program, because we have a lot of trade with Canada in feed and animals and everything else."

"It's the international standard to remove SRMs from animal feed . . . in countries where BSE has been identified," said Hueston, who directs the university's Center for Animal Health and Food Safety.

SRMs are banned from human food; they are removed from cattle carcasses at slaughterhouses and taken to rendering plants, where they can currently be used in poultry feed and other nonruminant feeds. Hueston said the main concern is that cattle can be exposed to SRMs if they are accidentally given poultry feed. "So this [proposed ban] reduces the potential for leakage in the system."

Another pathway that exposes cattle to poultry feed is the practice of putting poultry litter—spilled bedding, feed, and waste collected underneath poultry cages—in cattle feed. Hueston said Canada has banned that, while the United States still permits it.

The FDA said last year it was considering banning the use of poultry litter in cattle feed. Reports on Crawford's speech didn't mention any comments on that issue.

"They [the FDA] haven't given a clear indication which way they're going to move on that," Hueston said. He commented that keeping SRMs out of poultry feed would address that concern.

According to accounts of his speech, Crawford did not suggest whether the FDA will ban the use of cattle blood and restaurant leftovers in cattle feed—practices that some regard as other risk factors for spreading BSE.

The United States has been trying to persuade Japan to reopen its market to US beef ever since BSE turned up here in 2003. According to the Bloomberg story, a draft report issued last week by Japan's Food Safety Commission said US cattle are more exposed to BSE than Japanese cattle because of insufficient feed regulations.

Hueston said the FDA is undoubtedly weighing the possible effects of its feed rules on the effort to reopen beef trade with Japan and other countries. "Aso, you don't want to create a brand-new disparity with Canada, when our beef industries are essentially joined at the hip," he added.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said this week it hopes to ban SRMs from all animal feeds by the end of this year, according to a Sep 20 Reuters report. The story quoted Billy Hewett, the CFIA's policy director, as saying, "I know it seems slow, but it is enormously complex."

See also:

Jul 9, 2004, CIDRAP News story "FDA sets BSE-related rules but delays action on feed"

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