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Too Little, Too Late: Mad Cow Makes Its U.S. Debut

Mad cow disease first appeared in the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s. Because North American livestock rendering and feeding practices are similar to those in Britain, it seemed only a matter of time before the disease hit the United States. And it was. On December 22, 2003, the first U.S. case was reported.

Three years before the discovery, PCRM petitioned the USDA, asking that it take strong steps to protect the public from mad cow disease and its human equivalent, the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Specifically, the agency was urged to:

  • Ban the use of animal-derived livestock feeds for any species, given the likelihood that animal byproducts will, in turn, be recycled to ruminants (that is, cows, sheep, and goats).
  • Prohibit animal byproducts in all medications, supplements, or cosmetics.
  • Label all foods containing animal byproducts (such as gelatin or “natural flavorings”), indicating both the presence of animal byproducts and the species of origin.
  • Provide warning labels on all foods that carry a risk of vCJD, using standards similar to those for tobacco and alcohol products.
  • Institute comprehensive monitoring programs to check for diseased animals and humans in the United States.

PCRM is again urging USDA secretary Ann Veneman to institute its original recommendations, but the agency’s close ties to the beef industry raise questions about its willingness to do so.

In the wake of the new case of mad cow disease in the United States, the USDA announced a ban of certain animal byproducts, such as mechanically separated beef, skull, brain, and spinal cord, for use in the human food supply, but it is unclear where these products will eventually end up. If they are rendered into pet food or used in medications, supplements, and cosmetics, the risk of prion infection will not be eliminated.

PCRM is again urging USDA secretary Ann Veneman to institute its original recommendations, but the agency’s close ties to the beef industry raise questions about its willingness to do so. Secretary Veneman’s chief of staff Dale Moore, press secretary Alisa Harrison, deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs Chuck Lambert, and senior advisor for food and nutrition Elizabeth Johnson have all been employed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

The Right to Know
A bill introduced by Congresswoman Nita Lowey, HR 467, also known as the Food Ingredient Right to Know Act, would require that foods containing spices, flavoring, or coloring derived from meat, poultry, other animal products (including insects), or known allergens bear labeling stating that fact. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Health in February 2003. Readers can back the bill by asking their federal representatives to support HR 467 (visit While you’re at it, ask the Food and Drug Administration to grant the November 17, 1999, petition filed by the Vegetarian Legal Action Network that would require manufacturers to expose the source of origin of the “natural flavors” in their food. Visit to learn more.

What You Can Do
Contact the FDA to urge action on this petition. Remember to include the docket number (99P-5106) in any correspondence, whether by regular mail, email, or phone.

Call: 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)
Write: Dockets Management Branch
Food and Drug Administration
Room 1061
5630 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20852.

A menu change: The most effective way to cut the risk of meat-related diseases is to leave it off the menu. Ask PCRM for a free Vegetarian Starter Kit.


Spring-Summer 2004
Volume XIII
Numbers 2-3

 Good Medicine

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