Cattle producers say new “mad cow” rule will strand them with rotting carcasses

(John Morgan/FLICKR)


For anyone who has ever misplaced a package of ground chuck in the back of the fridge, the stench of old meat no doubt conjures memories of an emergency trip to the dumpster. Just imagine if instead of a pound of beef, you had the entire 1,200-pound carcass rotting in your yard.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said in a statement Tuesday a Food and Drug Administration rule that was slated to take effect at the end of April could leave up to 577 million additional pounds of dead cattle on the doorsteps of producers and veterinarians each year.

The measure is intended to prevent outbreaks of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, more compellingly known as “mad cow disease,” in U.S. cattle stocks, following the 2003 discovery of a BSE-infected dairy cow in the U.S.

In response to mounting backlash from producers, the FDA announced Monday it will delay the implementation of a rule called “Substances Prohibited from Use in Animal Food or Feed” for 60 days, but critics say the FDA should be reconsidering the regulation itself, rather than just postponing the deadline. 

Since 1997, the FDA has prohibited cattle producers from raising their livestock on feed made from ruminant animals, such as goats, horses or other cattle. The new rule would strengthen existing regulations by banning the use of high-risk materials, such as the brains, spinal cords or carcasses of cattle 30 months of age and older in the manufacturing of all animal feed.

Opponents argue that science-based measures have significantly decreased the incidence of mad cow disease in the U.S., saying further regulations will complicate rather than improve animal health and safety and burden producers with additional costs.

According to Maralee Johnson of the Illinois Beef Association, cattle farms already undergo about 100 inspections every year.

Given the liability that will accompany the upcoming ban, rendering services have already become more scrupulous about picking up dead animals or have increased fees for hauling cattle older than 30 months.

Johnson explained, “Some renderers used to charge $50 to pick up those animals, but now it’s $100 per head.” The costs add up, she said, and cattle that are not processed ultimately go to a landfill. “It seems like a shame,” Johnson added.

However, in the wake of continual salmonella outbreaks attributed to lax standards at U.S. peanut and pistachio manufacturers, it seems unlikely the FDA will budge on issues regarding meat, even if it is intended for dog food.

The public has until April 16 to comment on whether or not the ban should be delayed at all.

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