By Jon Bonné
updated 7/8/2004 2:48:12 PM ET 2004-07-08T18:48:12

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday will unveil a broader set of proposed rules to minimize the risk of mad cow disease, according to consumer and trade groups.

One consumer group that has discussed the matter with FDA officials said the proposal will have multiple parts, including a final rule tightening some controls on what animals can be fed.

And the American Feed Industry Association, which represents animal feed and pet food makers, said it expects the new proposal to combine tighter rules suggested by the FDA in January with recommendations released in February by a panel of experts convened by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to consider how to limit any possible spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, as mad cow is formally known.

Currently, the FDA’s rules prohibit feeding cattle any protein derived from slaughtered cows or other ruminants.  Originally enacted in 1997, the rules were designed to stem what is thought to be the biggest cause of the fatal brain disease: the consumption by cattle protein by other cattle. That intraspecies feeding was targeted as the primary cause of the British outbreak of BSE, which infected some 180,000 cows.

The January announcement was intended to expand that prohibition. The FDA proposed to ban mammalian blood and poultry droppings from cattle feed, to require feed mills to have separate equipment to handle cattle feed in order to prevent cross-contamination, to bar the use of meat scraps in feed and to ban many higher risk meat products -– meat from so-called “downer” cows or nervous tissue like brain stems -– not only from food but also from regulated dietary supplements and cosmetics.

The expert panel went even further, recommending that protein from all mammals and poultry be barred from cattle feed, that high-risk cattle parts be barred from pet food and that meat and bone meal from any animal except fish be barred from cattle feed. Their suggestions would bring the United States closer in line with its European counterparts, who currently ban all mammal and poultry protein from cattle feed.

Earlier proposals
Some of these proposals in fact predate the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, which was diagnosed last December in a Washington state dairy cow.  In 2002, the FDA proposed many of these tougher restrictions, including the use of poultry “litter” in cattle feed.

The FDA’s 2002 proposal was never enacted, but it served as notice to the industry of possible changes, which allowed the FDA to state in January that it could quickly implement some of those changes. Some of these long-standing proposals could be put in place Friday, while others -– notably the expert panel’s recommendation to ban almost all animal protein from feed –- must be listed as a proposed change and cannot take effect for at least several more months.

“It does not go into effect until it’s a final rule,” said Jean Halloran, director of the Consumer Policy Institute.

In the six months since January, the agency has been criticized by consumer groups for its delay in in officially publishing the proposed rule changes.

In the interim, feed mills have continued to operate under the older, less stringent rules, though the FDA has said it is stepping up inspections and enforcement of the rules.  In April, FDA data revealed nearly 100 companies had been recently cited for feed rule violations.

In April, FDA Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford said there would be no need for expanded rules beyond the January proposal unless additional cases of mad cow were found. Two initial positive cases were detected last month, but both turned out negative.

At the same time, the feed industry has been hesitant for the FDA to quickly implement the rules, since feed makers may face a significant financial impact as tighter restrictions are put in place. “They’ve taken their time with this issue because so much is involved,” said Rex Runyon, vice president of the feed association. “They don’t want to make unjust decisions that can’t be reversed.”

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