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U.S. Government Safeguards Against BSE

BG0513E | Date: 2005-06-30

U.S. ameliorating measures are fully adequate to protect both the human food and animal feed chains from the risk of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or "Mad Cow Disease") contamination.  The safeguards implemented by USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensure that consumers of U.S. beef and other ruminant products will not be exposed to any products that can transmit BSE.

Recent safeguards include:

  • The designation of specific tissues as SRMs (such as brain, spinal cord, vertebral column, skull, eyes, trigeminal ganglia, and dorsal root ganglia in animals 30 months of age and the tonsils and distal ileum of animals of all ages) and the prohibition on their use in human food;
  • The ban on mechanically separated beef in human food;
  • Condemning all non-ambulatory disabled cattle on antemortem inspection and prescribing requirements for their handling and disposition;
  • The ban on air-injection stunning of cattle; 
  • The implementation of the "test and hold" policy providing that cattle selected by APHIS for BSE Surveillance testing that are not non-ambulatory disabled are slaughtered but will be held and are not "inspected and passed" until the results of the test are received and are negative; and
  • An enhanced surveillance system to augment our aggressive measures taken over the past decade by strengthening BSE surveillance in the high-risk cattle population.

In addition, on July 9, 2004, the U.S. Health and Agriculture Secretaries announced three additional actions being taken to further strengthen the existing safeguards:

  • An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking:  A joint Health and Agriculture notice that asks for public comment on additional preventative actions that are being considered concerning BSE;
  • An Interim Final Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule that prohibits the use of certain cattle-derived materials in human food (including dietary supplements) and cosmetics; and
  • A proposed FDA rule on record-keeping requirements of the interim final rule.

A number of safeguards were already in place prior to the December 23, 2003 detection of BSE, such as:

  • The 1997 ruminant feed ban (which prohibited the feeding of most mammalian protein to ruminants);
  • The ban on the importation of live ruminants and most ruminant products (including beef and meat and bone meal) from countries with BSE or at high risk for BSE; and The U.S. BSE testing program exceeds OIE recommendations.