Federal and state food agencies have been mighty lenient with the cattlemen for years now, apparently waiting until enough Americans with mad cow disease had time to develop symptoms. It can take as many as ten or twenty years for the disease to show up.
Just last November the USDA relaxed rules for importing cattle from areas known to harbor the disease. (See second story below.)
Recently, the CDC admitted that a fourth American has died of mad cow disease.
Now, the USDA is finally getting off its duff.
United States Department of Agriculture announced a recall for over four thousand pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with mad cow disease.
A part of the nervous system that can be detrimental to consumers in
cattle over a certain age is required to be completely removed from the
beef. It is suspected that this regulation was not met precisely.
Fruitland American Meat, a company based in Missouri, informed
consumers that the bone-in ribeye roasts were sold to a New York City restaurant, as well as a Whole Foods distribution center in Connecticut which provides for several of the New England stores, reports the Los Angeles Times.
There have been no reported incidents of any negative reactions to
ingestion of these beef products. The USDA classified the incident as a
low health risk.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service discovered the issue while
reviewing the company’s slaughter logs. The USDA stated that the
possible contamination might have been caused by the employees’ failure
to properly determine the age of cattle.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its
final ruling late Friday afternoon easing regulations on beef imports
in regard to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the fatal disease
in cattle also known as “Mad Cow Disease.”
The new rule will bring the United States’ stance on beef imports in
line with international standards that base trade policies on the
scientifically perceived risk of animals or animal products harboring
the disease, according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection
the agency said the move modernizes the U.S.’s beef import regulations,
some industry and consumer groups have come out against the new rules,
saying they needlessly endanger U.S. consumers and the country’s cattle
Under the new rule, some current restrictions on beef imports will be
lifted based on countries that have a “negligible risk for BSE,” a
status determined by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Commodities that pose more than a negligible risk may still be
restricted, but not necessarily.
The rules could potentially reopen beef imports to the U.S. from the
European Union, which have been restricted since 1998. The U.S. imports
about 8.1 percent of its beef supply, predominantly in the form of live
cattle from Canada and Mexico. About 10 percent of the U.S. beef supply
is exported, mostly in the form of high quality cuts.
The move to align its BSE standards with international policies may
also open U.S. beef exports to more foreign markets. In May, the OIE
upgraded the status of U.S. BSE risk from “controlled” to “negligible,”
the safest possible classification.
As an example of how the rule would change imports, the USDA said
that boneless beef could be imported from countries that have had cases
of BSE as boneless beef presents a scientifically negligible risk of
transmitting BSE. Most imports have previously been prohibited from any
country that had an indigenous case of BSE.
“These actions will further demonstrate to our trading partners our
commitment to international standards and sound science,” the agency
wrote in a fact sheet, “and we are hopeful it will help open new markets
and remove remaining restrictions on U.S. cattle and cattle products.”
In a statement, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA)
President Scott George said the rule would be integral to expanding
international beef trade and called it “great news for the U.S. cattle
Bill Bullard, president of rancher trade group R-CALF, disagreed,
saying that the USDA’s new rule “radically” relaxed import restrictions
for areas where BSE continues to persist.
Bullard pointed out that the European Union reported four new cases
of BSE in 2013, saying that the new rule “opens the door to allow U.S.
meatpackers to begin supplementing tight U.S. beef supplies with beef of
questionable safety from Europe.”
Europe has reportedly detected 83 new cases of BSE since 2010, a
significant reduction from past decades. Since the 1980s, the United
Kingdom has seen more than 180,000 cases.
Bullard said the new rule also underscored the need for
country-of-origin labeling laws, which are opposed by the NCBA and
members of Congress via the 2013 Farm Bill.
The new rule could put both consumers and the U.S. cattle herd at
risk, according to Dr. Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at
Hansen cited a recent study that found roughly one in 2,000 people in the U.K. were silent carriers of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human form of BSE.
At least 177 U.K. citizens – and 49 other people around the world –
have died from vCJD since 1996. One death has occurred in the past two
years in the U.K., the country recognized as having the largest exposure
to BSE, according to the BBC.
Humans can contract vCJD from eating meat contaminated with brain or
spinal tissue from cattle infected with BSE. The agent that transmits
BSE is not destroyed in the cooking process.
Countries around the world have tried to severely control the spread
of BSE since its appearance in the 1980s. The disease began spreading
through the practice of mixing cattle meat and bone meal into the feed
of cattle herds.
BSE causes the brain and spinal cords of cattle to deteriorate. Symptoms typically appear in cattle older than 30 months.
The U.K. has seen more than 180,000 cases of BSE in cattle, by far
the most of any country. By comparison, France and Portugal have each
seen roughly 900, the second most. The U.S. has had four cases.
In the U.S. and other countries regulating BSE, cattle feed can no
longer contain meat of other ruminant animals. USDA runs a surveillance
program for BSE, and slaughterhouses are required to remove the brains
and spinal cords from all carcasses.
USDA will file the new beef import rule in the Federal Register in
the coming days. It takes effect 90 days from the filing date.