Harvard risk assessment: 'small chance' that some U.S. cattle have mad cow disease

CSPI calls for regulations that safeguard the human food supply

There is a small chance that mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is already in this country, according to a risk assessment released today by Harvard University. The risk assessment concluded that even if BSE had entered this country, it wouldn’t become a major public health problem, although human illnesses could occur. Last August, CSPI petitioned the USDA to bar the use of spinal cords, columns and other potentially infectious material from beef in the human food supply, as an additional firewall against the human disease linked to BSE.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI’s food safety director, had the following comment:

We should not wait for the discovery of mad cow disease in the U.S. before closing the gaps in our food safety system. The regulations in place today are not adequate to safeguard the human food supply. More protections are clearly warranted to protect the public from consuming potentially contaminated meat. USDA must ban the use of spinal cords, spinal columns and other potentially infectious tissue from beef in the human food supply.

The current system also is not adequate to prevent the spread of BSE in the cattle population. Although the feed ban prohibits most mammalian tissues from being fed to cattle and other ruminants, this material can still be fed to pigs and poultry. But the current system has failed to prevent the feed intended for pigs and poultry from being fed to cattle. The FDA must improve the feed ban.