A Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) enforcement of its ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban found that FDA could not say how many plants were actually in compliance with feed ban rules and lacked testing procedures to detect prohibited material in animal feed.
The report, requested by Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., comes on the heels of increased attention on the effectiveness of such feed bans, both in Canada and the United States. Feeding protein material from one ruminant (animals whose stomachs are divided into four parts, such as cattle and deer) to another is believed to be the major route by which BSE is transmitted among animals.
"The FDA ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban is the linchpin of the U.S. strategy for preventing the spread of BSE to U.S. cattle herds," Harkin says. "Yet the GAO found substantial shortcomings in enforcing the ban, including failure to monitor feed plants adequately and to test animal feed for prohibited ruminant byproducts. Common sense tells us the best way to measure compliance is to sample feed to make sure it does not contain ruminant byproducts. Despite what FDA asserts, technology is available for testing feed to detect ruminant byproducts. FDA should use this technology."
"The loopholes that allow BSE risk materials into animal feed must be closed," Durbin says. "The United States food supply is still the safest in the world, but we must take the steps necessary to keep it that way. This GAO report is one more link in a long chain of evidence that the threat of BSE is not being taken seriously enough."
In 1997, FDA prohibited ruminant byproducts in ruminant feed and began requiring firms handling both prohibited ruminant byproducts and ruminant feed to keep these materials separate. Since enactment, questions have persisted concerning FDA's enforcement of and industry compliance with the ban. The GAO report creates even more questions by shooting holes in FDA's claim of 99% compliance with its regulations. The report found this claim by FDA misleading because it is based on inspecting only a fraction of feed plants and does not count actual violations of the feed rules if the plants involved are later found in compliance. The GAO also noted that because feed plants are not required to register with FDA, not all plants that make animal feed and are subject to FDA inspection have even been identified, or inspected.
In addition to raising questions about the validity of FDA's compliance reports, the GAO cited a number of other shortcomings in FDA's enforcement of the ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban. Specifically, the report noted that FDA fails to set consistent standards for cleaning machinery and transport vehicles that handle both prohibited and allowed feed materials and fails to conduct timely inspections in all known plants.
"This report makes it crystal clear that much work remains to get compliance with the ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban to where it needs to be," the senators says. "It is critically important that U.S. anti-BSE efforts are above and beyond questioning to assure consumers beef is safe, to protect animal health and to help reassure foreign markets and encourage them to reopen to U.S. cattle and beef exports. We hope FDA and the Department of Agriculture take this report seriously and immediately act to rectify the problems outlined."