Better protection from mad cow disease

The Food and Drug Administration has announced several new measures to keep meat that’s potentially infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)—better known as mad cow disease—out of the food supplies of both people and cattle.

The first measure identifies several meat sources to be prohibited for use in food for people, in dietary supplements, and in cosmetics. The banned sources include “downer” cows, which are those too sick to walk to slaughter, and cattle that have died before reaching a slaughterhouse. Also banned are tissues that tend to harbor the infectious agent responsible for BSE: brain, skull, eye, and spinal cord tissues of cattle 5 years or older and portions of the small intestines and tonsils from cows of any age. The new rule also excludes beef that has been mechanically separated from a carcass, because the process can extract some of the banned tissues.

A second new rule bans the feeding of poultry litter—bedding, feathers, and feces from a coop—to cattle and other ruminant livestock. This restriction stems from the concern that litter also includes spilled bird food, which may legally contain some of the potentially infected cattle tissue. Finally, the FDA is prohibiting “plate wastes,” which are essentially meat scraps from restaurants, from the feed of cattle and other ruminants. Earlier rules had barred other animal parts from cattle feed.

Announcing the new rules on Jan. 26, FDA Commissioner Mark B. McClellan pledged that his agency will do annual inspections of meat-processing facilities, including all known rendering plants, and all mills that process ingredients for cattle feed.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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