Statement of CFA's Carol Tucker Foreman on USDA's Additional Protections to Prevent Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

December 31, 2003
Contact: Chris Waldrop

"Consumer Federation of America is pleased that the United States government has seen the wisdom of taking actions we have advocated, in some cases for many years, to protect the public against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Each of the steps announced today were either ones we have advocated long before the BSE contaminated cow was found in the U.S. or are weaker versions of actions we have advocated.

"Had USDA and the meat industry followed our counsel earlier, our country could have avoided the consumer fears and trade disruptions suffered over the last week.

"We have three concerns:

  1. The Secretary's statement stopped short of supporting a mandatory national system for tracing all meat animals from the slaughterhouse back to the farm of origin. A voluntary or piece meal system is not sufficient to protect either public health or consumer confidence.

  2. The new actions do not include increased testing for the presence of BSE. We believe all animals over the age of three should be tested.

  3. The steps did not include seeking mandatory recall authority which consumer groups have urged for many years and which was supported by the previous Administration.

"The steps announced today were, for the most part, quite general. CFA will watch closely to see that the provisions are not weakened as public scrutiny diminishes and as the commitments move from press release to regulation to actuality.

"Consumer groups have urged:

  • Limits on advanced meat recovery systems (AMR) for over ten years. In 2002, consumer organizations petitioned the USDA to prohibit the use of back, neck and head bones in AMR systems. USDA's own data show 35% of AMR samples were contaminated with CNS tissues, spinal cord material and dorsal ganglia. We have long opposed the use of mechanically separated meat (MSM).

  • A mandatory federal system to trace animals from the slaughterhouse back to the farm of origin since 1980 - 23 years.

  • An end to having sick animals enter the human food supply.

"The actions on animal stunning and specified risk material are welcome improvements. But industry pressure has kept the Bush Administration from taking all of the steps necessary to protect the public.

"USDA did not make any commitment to seek new authority giving the Department power to require that meat be recalled. The recall of meat associated with this animal was voluntary. The companies involved did not act immediately after receiving notice that they had processed and sold meat from a contaminated animal.

"FDA did not expand the feed ban to preclude the use of all ruminants in animal feed. Nor did FDA announce the assignment of enforcement resources sufficient to assure the ban on feeding ruminant material to bovines is effective."

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Carol Tucker Foreman was assistant secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, 1977-81. Her responsibilities included meat, poultry and egg inspection. She is currently the Director of the Food Policy Institute of the Consumer Federation of America.