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The Physicians Committee

NEWS RELEASE January 4, 2004

New Mad Cow Safety Measures Leave Major Gaps, Say Doctors

Stop Feeding Manure, Blood, and Other Animals to Cows; Ban Animal Byproducts in Medications

WASHINGTON—The new safety measures recently announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not protect the public from mad cow disease, says the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in a letter today to Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. Three years ago, PCRM urged the agency to take stronger action against mad cow disease and its human equivalent, the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). None of PCRM’s recommendations has yet been implemented.

“It is still possible—even likely—that further cases of mad cow disease will emerge, with human cases to follow,” says Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D., PCRM’s nutrition director. “The USDA cares far less about public safety than about cattle industry profits and has failed to enact the safety measures we have been recommending for years.” PCRM cites these problems with USDA policy:

  • Farmers routinely feed animal remains, blood, and manure—particularly chicken feces—to cattle. Although the USDA prohibits the feeding of ruminant (e.g., cows, sheep, and goats) remains to ruminants, this rule is poorly enforced and does not preclude many other risky practices, including the feeding of blood, manure, and nonruminants (e.g., chickens, pigs, etc.) to cows. Cattle remains are also fed to chickens, whose wastes are then fed back to cows. PCRM recommends a ban on all these practices.
  • Animal byproducts are commonly used in medications, supplements, and cosmetics. Animal byproducts may contain prions, the difficult-to-destroy, infectious agents that cause mad cow disease and vCJD. PCRM recommends a ban on animal byproduct use in such products because these products are often ingested and may be infectious.
  • Many food products contain animal byproducts, such as gelatin or “natural flavorings.” PCRM recommends labeling indicating both the presence of animal byproducts and the species of origin.
  • There are no warning labels on high-risk products, such as bologna and hot dogs. PCRM recommends the use of warning labels on all foods that carry a risk of vCJD using standards similar to those for tobacco and alcohol products.
  • Monitoring for mad cow disease and CJD is haphazard. PCRM recommends that the USDA institute comprehensive monitoring programs to check for diseased animals and humans in the United States. Although Japan tests every cow at slaughter, the United States tests far less than 1 percent of the 36 million cows slaughtered per year.

PCRM has long maintained that the USDA has not instituted these protections because many of its top staffers come from the meat and dairy industries. For example, Veneman’s chief of staff Dale Moore, press secretary Alisa Harrison, deputy under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs Chuck Lambert, and senior advisor for food and nutrition Elizabeth Johnson all previously worked for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

While it is crucial to enact further measures to protect against vCJD, PCRM experts emphasize that “making meat safe” is not a realistic goal. Apart from the risk of mad cow disease, meat consumption is linked to coronary artery disease, colon and other forms of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and infection with salmonella, listeria, and E. coli O157:H7, among other foodborne pathogens.To schedule an interview with Dr. Lanou, please contact PCRM at 202-686-2210, ext. 309.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Media Contact:
Jeanne S. McVey

Related Link:
Mad Cow Disease fact sheet

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