Feds expand mad cow safeguards

The Food and Drug Administration this week began implementing new measures to help prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and further protect Americans from exposure to the illness, known as "mad cow" disease, which has been linked to the fatal Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans.

The agency will ban a wide range of bovine-derived material from human food, including dietary supplements and cosmetics. The measures are similar to those implemented earlier this month by the Agriculture Department banning certain high-risk materials from meat products.

Materials banned from food and cosmetics regulated by FDA include: any material from downer cattle (those that cannot walk on their own); any material from dead cattle (those that die on the farm before reaching the slaughterhouse); and materials that are known to harbor the highest concentrations of the agent causing BSE, including the brain, skull, eyes and spinal cord of cattle 30 months or older, and a portion of small intestine and tonsils from all cattle, regardless of age or health.

Also banned from cosmetics and food products is the product known as mechanically separated beef, a byproduct the Agriculture Department defines as "a pastelike and batterlike meat product produced by forcing bones with attached edible meat under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue."

FDA also announced that it will tighten restrictions on materials that can be used in animal feed. Mammalian blood and blood products, which scientific evidence suggests can harbor the agent causing BSE, will no longer be allowed in animal feed for ruminants. Also prohibited for use in feed will be poultry litter, which consists of bedding, spilled feed, feathers and fecal matter collected from the living quarters where poultry is raised, and plate waste, which consists of meat scraps collected from some large restaurants.

To prevent cross-contamination among animal feed, the FDA also is requiring that feed manufacturers maintain separate production lines for ruminant and nonruminant animal feed, if they use materials that are now prohibited in ruminant feed.

"Today's actions will make strong public health protections against BSE even stronger," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on Tuesday. HHS is the parent agency of the FDA. Administration officials maintain that regulations already in place before the first case of BSE was discovered in the United States last December make it is highly unlikely any humans have been exposed to BSE.

The disease has devastated the cattle industry in Britain and other nations and caused billions of dollars in economic damage there and elsewhere.

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