Back to warmwell.com website


"..Unless you have ridden in the back of a cattle truck and understand the pressure of jostling around at highway speeds with lots of animals trying to remain standing, then you do not understand the difficulty these animals face. There are reasons that animals can fall, and can be injured. It does not mean they have a neurological disease..... No one is discounting the horrible nature of vCJD, but we must remember that about 150 people succumbed to vCJD in 10 years worldwide, yet I do not see Americans seeking to ban cars...." ProMed moderator comment on the news that the US may lift the downer ban

http://www.promedmail.org/pls/askus/f?p=2400:1001:2078000614111147544::NO::F2400_P1001_BACK_PAGE,F2400_P1001_PUB_MAIL_ID:1000,28698

Date: Fri 15 Apr 2005
From: ProMED-mail <
promed@promedmail.org>
Source: Reuters


Bush administration may ease "downer cattle" ban
- ------------------------------------------------
The Bush administration said on Friday it may allow some injured cattle to
be slaughtered for human food, easing a regulation that the Agriculture
Department (USDA) adopted 15 months ago after the nation's 1st case of mad
cow disease.

Consumer groups said they oppose any changes in regulations aimed at
keeping the deadly disease out of the food supply. The USDA prohibited all
so-called downer cattle -- those too sick or injured to walk -- from being
slaughtered for human food, soon after a Washington State dairy cow was
diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in December 2003. The
ban was part of a package of tighter USDA regulations to prevent mad cow
disease, whose symptoms can include an inability to walk.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns suggested that the ban on downer cattle
may be eased after the USDA completes an enhanced surveillance program of
US cattle later this year [2005]. "There is a compelling argument: If
you've got an animal that's clearly under 30 months that broke a leg in
transit, there is no threat of BSE whatsoever," Johanns told reporters
after addressing the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "Why are we
doing this? I'm going to thoughtfully consider those arguments," he added.

Scientists believe that mad cow disease is spread through contaminated
livestock feed. Young animals are considered to pose the least risk of
disease because BSE takes several years to incubate. The ban on downer
cattle being slaughtered for human food represents a sizable financial loss
to cattle ranchers. For example, a 1110 pound steer is worth around USD
1000 if slaughtered for steaks and ground beef, but brings less than USD
200 if condemned as a downer and used for pet food.

About 195 000 cattle are downers out of more than 30 million slaughtered
annually, according to industry estimates. USDA officials previously said
the department would review all of its anti-mad cow regulations after it
completes an expanded testing program sometime in 2005. Johanns' comments
on Friday were the most explicit to date of potential changes the
government is examining.

"When we get to a point where we're ready to wrap up the increased
surveillance and decide what next to do, I want to look at a range of
issues," said Johanns, a former governor of Nebraska, a major
cattle-producing state. Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, will take
part in the review, he said.

No other cases of BSE have been found in the US cattle herd, despite
expanded testing since June 2004. As of 10 Apr 2005, the USDA tested 314
394 animals in its expanded surveillance program. That will be completed in
the next few months, opening the door for USDA to propose changes based on
its findings.

Consumer advocates said cattle unable to walk should not be used for human
consumption. "I'm not surprised to hear that the Bush administration might
backtrack on important BSE protections if the surveillance program doesn't
turn up additional positives," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety
director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Downer cattle
represent less-healthy animals and should be kept out of the food supply,"
she added. Other farm groups have expressed concern that the ban on downer
cattle could eventually lead to a similar restriction on pigs sent to
slaughter.

The package of mad cow prevention measures adopted by the USDA 15 months
ago included a ban on using brains and small intestines from older cattle
for human food and a ban on stunning cattle with a powerful air injection
to the skull. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still considering
whether to ban the use of cattle blood as a protein supplement for calves
and the use of chicken litter as cattle feed.

[byline: Randy Fabi]

- --
ProMED-mail
<
promed@promedmail.org>

[First of all, this relaxation in the current policy has not been adopted;
it is only a proposal being examined in the light of science and economics.

Unless you have ridden in the back of a cattle truck and understand the
pressure of jostling around at highway speeds with lots of animals trying
to remain standing, then you do not understand the difficulty these animals
face. There are reasons that animals can fall, and can be injured. It does
not mean they have a neurological disease. Other reasons for "downer
cattle" include having a large calf, which can injure the obturator nerve
as the calf squeezes through the birth canal. Though neurological disease
is not a factor in the ratio of the size of the calf vs that of the
birthing canal, a downer cow is the result. This is not brain-related
neurological disease any more than if a severed spinal cord on an athlete
resulted from a throw from his polo pony.

Although there are clearly some reasons unrelated to BSE that may result in
an animal being termed a downer, there is also the risk that any relaxation
in policy could be extended too far. Surely safeguards and strict
guidelines would have to accompany the possible new rules.

With the current policy, the downers are probably being disposed of through
their own "underground" or "black market", because they are not turning up
at inspected slaughter facilities. The reasons these animals became downers
still exist, but the use of these animals has changed.

Furthermore, one only has to check with pet food companies to realize their
policy is "no downers." There are TSEs in cats, and we may some day
discover a TSE in dogs. The pet food makers want no part of downers, so
there is no reason to believe that downers are becoming pet food.

In addition, when the increased BSE surveillance was announced by USDA,
many rendering companies did not want to take part for risk of a recall.
The ability to hold a carcass until testing is complete has allowed the
renderers to remain an active part of agriculture without the risk of a
neurologically tainted product.

Relaxing the policy will require enormous hurdles to be overcome.
Justification will have to be balanced with science. It may even mean that
the large feedlots could become responsible for testing all of the
slaughtered animals, which could open certain markets to Japan. It may also
mean testing of animals under 30 months.

As to the concerns in the article that a ban on downer animals could be
extended to swine, perhaps it should. In a recent study of swine,
spongiform encephalopathy changes were noted in the brains of market swine,
despite the absence of any outward signs of clinical neurological disease.

There are safety and economic issues to be considered. The public will have
to understand that if we are to maintain a cheap food source, then
reasonable concessions may have to be made. The public must come to grips
with the realization that no activity -- including consumption of food --
has zero risk. The key is to realize that risk is relative. No one is
discounting the horrible nature of vCJD, but we must remember that about
150 people dying from the disease in about 10 years represents a low risk.
More Americans are killed by fatal car crashes in a month than have
succumbed to vCJD in 10 years worldwide, yet I do not see Americans seeking
to ban cars.

Perhaps it is possible to accept downer cattle into the food supply after
they have been tested with a more specific test, such as western blot.
Perhaps relaxing the current standards will result in testing any animal
destined for human consumption. There are many acceptable ways to relax the
standards from an economic standpoint and still maintain stringent food
security. - Mod.TG

To play the role of devil's advocate here, the conclusion that all of the
animals that break their legs while in transport are healthy reminds this
moderator of polio cases "found" in Brazil back in '85 that treating
physicians had classified as paralysis secondary to trauma. Of course the
children had fallen (the cause of the trauma) as a result of the onset of
paralysis that was related to poliovirus infection. At that time, because
of NIDs (National Immunization Days) that had been held twice a year for
the preceding 5 years, physicians (both clinical and within public health)
were convince that there couldn't be polio cases any more given the high
levels of vaccination coverage, and therefore flaccid paralysis had to be
due to another etiology and not poliovirus infection.

The statement in the newswire that young animals are felt to be safe
because it takes years to incubate the disease is a bit misleading, as
infection of the animals has usually occurred at a young age -- it is the
expression of the clinical disease that takes years to manifest. The
younger animals were felt to be "safer" because they were born after feed
regulations were imposed to eliminate/reduce infection of these animals
through contaminated food products fed to the cattle. A question that
remains is whether an infected, as yet asymptomatic animal is not a risk
for disease transmission across species (to humans eating products from
that infected yet asymptomatic animal). Withholding testing for BSE by
pre-supposing absolutely no risk of BSE under age 30 months is guaranteeing
that one will not identify BSE in the under 30 months age group. The
converse of "seek and ye shall find" -- "don't look and it ain't there". -
Mod.MPP]