The Senate voted this week to prohibit USDA from spending any money to make permanent a proposal reopening U.S. borders to Japanese beef. In making their decision, lawmakers noted that Japan has had a ban on feeding cattle remains to livestock in place for just four years, compared to eight years in the U.S. and Canada. They said that raises questions about the safety of Japanese beef, since tainted feed is the main suspect in the spread of mad cow disease.
There's also a sense of payback involved. Japan has banned American beef from its markets since the December 2003 discovery of a case of mad cow disease in Washington State. And while a second U.S. case has surfaced, efforts to check the spread of mad cow have been effective.
Part of that effort has centered on the government's drafting of a comprehensive Animal Feed Safety System by fiscal 2007. To that end, officials this week looked north for guidance.
In an effort to close gaps in the battle lines against mad cow disease, the U.S. government is proposing changes in feed regulations for all livestock.
The changes are based on similar new rules proposed by the Canadian government, which wants to ban at-risk tissues from feed for all animals, including chickens, pigs and pets. Those at-risk tissues include brains, spinal cord, and other parts from slaughtered cattle that can carry mad cow disease.
In 1997, the U.S. government banned the practice of feeding cattle those remains. But the ban does NOT apply to feed for other animals. That creates a potential pathway for the mad cow protein to be fed back to cattle ... for example, through chicken waste or uneaten chicken feed that is fed to cows.
The Food and Drug Administration did NOT say if the rule change would include cattle blood and restaurant waste, also considered potential pathways for the mutant protein.
No timeline for implementation of the new rules was announced.