Fact: Rendered protein products that contain specified risk materials from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) are the main source of mad cow disease, if other cattle eat those materials.
Fiction: No one ever feeds anything other than cattle feed to cattle.
Sitting in my office, he unloaded.
What’s it gonna take, he asked, before we realize we’re kidding ourselves if we think mad cow disease couldn’t happen here in the United States?
This reader is as connected to the real farm world as anyone. He’s no stranger to hogs and cows. But he was angry at his industry’s blindness.
Arms waving, he continued.
Sure, there’s the ruminant feed ban (feeding cattle parts to cattle), but you know there’s some guy out there who runs out of feed for his cattle and grabs a bag of his hog feed in a pinch. Or someone who likes how the hog feed finishes out his feeder pigs and thinks it wouldn’t hurt to use it to finish out his steers, too.
Intentionally or unintentionally, it’s going to happen, he insisted.
Why don’t we have a complete feed ban on risk materials?
Specified Risk Materials, or SRMs, are tissues or portions of the carcass likely to contain the infectious BSE agent in an infected animal. In cattle, the BSE prions accumulate in areas such as the brain, tonsils, spinal cord and intestines.
These BSE agents are resistant to industrial rendering conditions.
On the table. Last January, the Food and Drug Administration proposed removing these risk materials from all animal feed, not just ruminant feed, and is also recommending that protein from dead and downer cows also be banned from the animal feed supply.
Currently, this material goes almost entirely to rendering, then production of meat and bonemeal and tallow, which are used in feed and industrial applications.
Last month, Canada proposed the same ban: no specified risk materials in animal feeds. Period.
Both countries already prohibit these materials from entering the human food supply.
The same ban was also recommended by an international review subcommittee last February: ban SRMs from all animal feed and exclude all mammalian and poultry protein from ruminant feed.
The European Union implemented similar import restrictions last year. “Only material derived from animals declared fit for human consumption can be imported or used for the production of animal feed.”
Opposition. Informa Economics (formerly Sparks Companies) studied the consequences of the suggested restrictions and certainly came up with legitimate reasons to oppose such a ban: increased costs of collecting material; loss of current market revenue generated by products like meat and bonemeal; increased costs of disposing of livestock and the environmental impact of alternative disposal methods.
Legitimate concerns, yes. But the cost of one, two or multiple cases of mad cow disease is much greater.
Don’t take my word. Alfonso Torres, executive director of the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell, testified last January on BSE before the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
Torres identified three areas to improve the U.S. BSE plan: restrictions on the trade of ruminant products; a targeted domestic surveillance program; and a ruminant feed ban.
“I urge the USDA and the FDA to ban the use of SRMs from all downers and from cattle older than 30 months,” Torres testified.
“These materials should not enter the human food chain or the animal feed chain,” he added.
Torres is also a former chief veterinary officer of the USDA and former director of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.
We should listen to him and quit dragging our feet.
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