Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy(BSE, or “Mad Cow Disease”):Current and Proposed Safeguards
Through mid-May 2007, the United States had confirmed three cases of bovinespongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow disease”): the first in December2003 in a Canadian-born cow found in Washington state, the second in June 2005 incow in Texas, and the third in March 2006 in a cow in Alabama.Shortly after the first case, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and otherofficials announced measures to improve existing safeguards against the introductionand spread of BSE. Previously, the major safeguards were: (1) USDA restrictionson imports of ruminants and their products from countries with BSE; (2) a ban onfeeding most mammalian proteins to cattle and other ruminants, issued by the Foodand Drug Administration (FDA); and (3) a targeted domestic surveillance programby USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the agencyresponsible for animal health monitoring and disease control.Some argued that these safeguards were inadequate, as evidenced by findingsof BSE here and subsequent federal efforts to bolster protections. Most new actionsannounced by USDA on December 30, 2003, were under the purview of USDA’sFood Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), responsible for the safety of most U.S.meat and poultry. These actions took effect in January 2004 and included (1) holdingtested carcasses until BSE-negative results are obtained; (2) banning nonambulatory(“downer”) cattle from human food; and (3) banning certain additional animal partsfrom human food. USDA also increased work and spending on a national animalidentification and tracking system, and undertook an enhanced BSE surveillanceprogram, among other activities. On January 26, 2004, FDA announced plannedchanges to its safeguards, including additional bovine materials banned from thehuman foods and cosmetics it regulates; a ban on poultry litter, restaurant waste, andruminant blood products from ruminant feed; and stricter oversight of feed manufact-uring. In lieu of these changes, FDA on October 6, 2005, proposed a ban, in all typesof animal feed, of some higher-risk cattle parts. A final rule is pending.Many Members of the 110
Congress continue to closely follow these BSEdevelopments; hearings and legislative proposals on various aspects of the issue arepossible. Among the policy questions have been whether expanded agency actionshave provided further protections against BSE, whether they are scientifically sound,and what costs they may have imposed on consumers, taxpayers, and industry. Alsoat issue have been whether USDA and FDA have effectively implemented andenforced the current safeguards; whether these safeguards will be sufficient to rebuildforeign markets’ confidence in the safety of U.S. beef; and whether other types of actions should be considered, among other questions. Additional U.S. BSE casescould affect these policy deliberations.This report will be updated if significant developments occur.