FDA to ban some cattle parts from animal feed

Oct 4, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today proposed new animal feed rules to reduce the risk of spreading bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), but they don't go as far as some earlier FDA proposals.

The agency has banned the use of cattle protein in feed for cattle and other ruminant animals since 1997, but it allows cattle parts in feed for other animals such as pigs and poultry. Today the agency proposed to ban the use of brains and spinal cords of older cattle from all animal feeds and pet foods.

But the FDA has decided not to ban other high-risk cattle parts, such as the tonsils, part of the small intestine, eyes, and certain nerve bundles, from animal feed. Also, the agency has decided to continue to allow the use of cattle blood, poultry litter, and restaurant plate waste in cattle feed, officials said.

Dr. Steven Sundlof the FDA said removing just the brain and spinal cord would greatly reduce any remaining risk while minimizing waste disposal problems. "By removing the brains and spinal cords from the animal feed stream, you've taken out 90% of the risk," he said during a teleconference today.

Under the new rule, brains and spinal cords from cattle older than 30 months would be banned from all animal feeds, the FDA said. The brain and spinal cord are among the "specified risk materials" (SRMs)—the tissues most likely to contain the BSE (mad cow disease) agent if an animal is infected.

In addition, the FDA is proposing to ban from animal feed:

  • The brains and spinal cords of cattle of any age not inspected and approved for human consumption
  • The entire carcass of cattle not approved for human consumption if the brain and spinal cord have not been removed
  • Tallow derived from materials banned under the rule if it contains more than 0.15% insoluble impurities
  • Mechanically separated beef derived from materials banned under the rule

The agency said removing high-risk materials from all animal feed will help prevent the possible spread of BSE through accidental mixing of ruminant and nonruminant feed during feed manufacturing or through misfeeding of nonruminant feed to ruminants.

Sundlof said the FDA would take comments on the proposed rule for 75 days after its publication in the Federal Register, scheduled for Oct 6. He wouldn't predict when the rule might take effect.

The reason the ban on brain and spinal cord excludes cattle younger than 30 months "is that all the studies tell us that materials from cattle less than 30 months of age do not have the infectious agent in a concentration sufficient to cause disease in other cattle," Sundlof said.

In January 2004, shortly after the first US BSE case surfaced, the FDA announced plans to ban SRMs from animal feeds and halt the feeding of mammalian blood to calves and feeding of poultry litter and restaurant scraps to cattle. But the agency never followed through on those plans. In July 2004 the agency announced a "preliminary" decision to ban SRMs from all animal feeds and called for comments on possible restrictions on blood, poultry litter, and restaurant plate waste.

The proposal announced today is the result of comments received after the July 2004 proposal and discussions since then, officials said.

Sundlof said the international expert panel that advised the government after the first US BSE case concluded that eliminating high-risk materials from all animal feeds was the most effective way to prevent misfeeding or cross-contamination that could allow the BSE agent to find its way into cattle.

"If the high-risk materials are removed from the feed stream, they never get into poultry feed, so therefore poultry litter becomes safer," he said.

Further, the US Department of Agriculture's ban on SRMs in human food makes restaurant scraps safer, he said.

"And [cattle] blood just doesn't seem to transmit the disease among cattle," Sundlof added. "So that was the reason for moving away from those early proposals." He asserted that the current proposal is "much more protective" than what was proposed in 2004.

The FDA estimates that the amount of brain and spinal cord that would have to be disposed of in alternate ways under the proposal is about 64 million pounds annually, Sundlof said. The increase in waste would be much larger if the FDA banned all SRMs from animal feeds, he said.

"There's no good way of disposing of all that material presently in the Untied States," he said. "That would've been an environmental issue for very little risk reduction."

The estimated cost of the proposed rule is $14 million a year, he said.

Canada is proposing a more comprehensive rule that would ban all SRMs from animal feeds, Sundlof said. FDA officials have talked regularly with their Canadian counterparts about the rules, he added.

See also:

FDA news release

Newsletter Sign-up

Get CIDRAP news and other free newsletters.

Sign up now»


Unrestricted financial support provided by

Bentson Foundation 3MAccelerate DiagnosticsGilead 
Grant support for ASP provided by


  Become an underwriter»