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FDA issues new rules vs. mad cow disease

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Six months after the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, the Food and Drug Administration issued long-delayed rules Friday banning nervous system tissue and other cattle parts from use in human food, dietary supplements and cosmetics.

The ban prohibits the use of the brain, skull, eyes and spinal cord tissue -- where infectious agents of the brain-wasting disease first appear -- from animals 30 months and older. Banned from all cattle are tonsils and small intestines and material from cattle that cannot stand up on their own.

Manufacturers and processors must immediately cease using any of those materials.

The agency also is seeking public and industry comment on a proposed ban on the use of the materials in animal feed.

The rules bring the FDA in line with those issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture just weeks after the discovery in December of a diseased cow in Washington state. The FDA ensures that food for humans as well as animals is pure, wholesome and does not contain unsafe additives.

But the agency might not finalize all its animal feed rules until 2006, says Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, and that has food safety advocates up in arms.

Jean Halloran of Consumers Union said while the FDA mulls its options, ''this dangerous material is still being fed to the cows.''

The FDA strengthened feed rules in 1997 and proposed new rules banning the feeding of potentially infectious material to cattle in November 2002. The proposals included bans on feeding cattle restaurant leftovers, poultry litter and dried cattle blood.

Mad cow disease, known to scientists as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is spread when the infected animals are recycled into feed. People who eat infected meat risk contracting a rare but fatal human condition, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

''The Bush administration has reneged on its pledge to take additional steps to protect human and animal health from BSE,'' says Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America.

But Sundlof says the broader feed rule on which the FDA is seeking comment may supercede the prohibitions it proposed earlier. By removing specified risk materials (brain, skull, eyes, spinal cord, small intestine, tonsils), ''you take about 90% of all the infectivity out of the system altogether,'' he says.

The FDA hopes to have the new feed rules in place within eight months, Sundloff says. ''Focusing our attention on the highest-risk materials and eliminating those from the animal feed supply will take us very far, and then we can sort through the rest.''

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