Statement of CFA’s Carol Tucker Foreman: Bush Administration Stalls Action on BSE Feed Protection Until The Last Mad Cow Comes Home

July 9, 2004
Chris Waldrop, 202.797.8551

On January 26, 2004 Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson stated, "Today's actions will make strong public health protections against BSE even stronger…we must never be satisfied with the status quo…this is the time to make sure the public is protected to the greatest extent possible."

Or maybe it's not. The Bush Administration has reneged on its pledge to take additional steps to protect human and animal health from BSE. Action that was urgent in January has become action that can be delayed until the last mad cow comes home. FDA initially felt it was important to address the weaknesses in their BSE protection system by issuing interim final rules. These rules would be in effect during any comment period. They have now reversed field and issued an announcement that some day they intend to propose rules that may in the future actually go into effect.

Since the first proposed rules to improve protection against feed contamination with BSE have sat on the shelf since 2002, the feed and meat industries can be assured they will not be inconvenienced during an election year. The Bush Administration has effectively said 'If it troubles our campaign contributors, let the public health be damned.'

The Bush Administration has repeatedly stated that U.S. citizens have nothing to fear because the U.S. instituted early and effective protections against feed contamination. Therefore, any BSE infection in the country would be self-limiting. However, in January the Secretary of Health and Human Services acknowledged the need for additional protection. It is these protections that have now been shelved for the foreseeable future. If the feed ban is not as protective as asserted, then the public and animal health are not as safe as the Administration has argued.

 For the foreseeable future, calves can still be fed cows' blood. Cows can consume poultry waste that may contain poultry feces and spilled feed that may be infected with the BSE agent. Cows consuming these products may become infected and subsequently infect humans. While the risk of human disease is small, the results of vCJD are catastrophic. The disease is always fatal. The decision to delay is inexplicable and irresponsible.

 The Consumer Federation of America is a non-profit association of 300 consumer groups, representing more than 50 million Americans, that seeks to advance the consumer interest through research, education and advocacy. Carol Tucker Foreman is the Director of CFA's Food Policy Institute.