Consumer Federation of America’s Carol Tucker Foreman on BSE Infected Cow in the U.S.

Contact: 202 441-4510

Consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. meat supply will be damaged by the finding of a domestic animal infected with BSE. USDA's actions to control the threat to public health were appropriate but not adequate. In addition, had the Bush Administration not blocked an amendment to the annual agriculture spending bill earlier this year, meat from the infected cow would never have been processed for food. In that action, USDA once again chose to put cattle industry interests ahead of human health. CFA commends Secretary Ann Veneman's decision to make the finding public and USDA's decision to seek a voluntary recall of the meat produced from the animal. These decisions will reduce public concern.

 USDA must act immediately to further protect the public. The Department should: ask Congress to put the provision prohibiting meat from downer cattle in the food supply back into the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for FY 2004 before final action in the Congress in January; pass legislation establishing a mandatory traceback system for all bovines; pass legislation providing for mandatory recall of food products. Had the infected animal in this case been a beef steer instead of a dairy cow, USDA could not have traced it back to the farm of origin.

 The Senate approved a provision offered by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) to the FY 2004 agriculture appropriations bill prohibiting the slaughter of downer cattle for use in human food. At the urging of Bush Administration lobbyists the provision was removed in the closed House-Senate conference committee meeting.

 Administration officials argued that it is a good thing to have downer cattle slaughtered for human food because it encourages ranchers to bring in the sick animals and gives USDA an opportunity to detect and investigate disease. Other actions could be taken that would accomplish this goal and protect public health as well. USDA could either allow slaughter of downer cattle but require that it be diverted to nonhuman uses or rendered for nonfood use or require reporting of downer animals and provide penalties for failure to do so. USDA chose a position that put cattle industry interests and animal health ahead of human health.

USDA argues that there is no problem with the current practice because slaughter houses are required to remove all central nervous system (CNS) tissue from downer cattle and that is the infective tissue for BSE. However, removing this tissue is rarely completely effective. USDA's own studies found that 35 percent of advanced meat recovery (AMR) product tested was contaminated with CNS tissue although regulations for AMR prohibit its presence in meat products.

In the wake of last summer's discovery of a BSE-infected cow in Canada, CFA urged the Agriculture Department to take several steps to protect U.S. consumers. Among them was tightening up regulations governing AMR processing.