US regulatory agencies in August announced new efforts to protect US consumers
from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow disease.”

The US
Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that effective immediately it is
requiring importers of pet food, lard, fish meal and other animal products
to include documents certifying that the country of origin is free of
mad cow disease and its human variant, vCJD.

the new rule, US importers must indicate where their animal product came
from, how it was processed and handled, and what livestock it includes.

The agency
is also considering whether to extend the new regulations to cover all
beef, sheep and goat imports.

At the
same time, US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson unveiled
that agency’s plans to strengthen surveillance, increase research resources,
and expand inspection efforts to prevent BSE. The effort will be coordinated
with other government agencies.

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The Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will enhance its current program
to identify and investigate possible cases of vCJD. FDA will review and
expand import inspection programs to keep potentially infected food products
out of the US, and its animal feed inspection program to prevent the use
of mammalian protein in feed for ruminant animals such as cows and sheep.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will more than double its current
spending for research on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs),
including BSE and vCJD, by the end of fiscal year 2002.

Other news

Troubling news regarding
another threat to the US meat industry, namely foot-and-mouth disease
(FMD), came from the USDA’s inspector general in August. That agency reported
that US controls for FMD are inadequate because of antiquated record-keeping
systems and poor communications between inspectors.

According to the report,
a manual record-keeping system used by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS) “cannot reliably track the status of shipments”
on hold at ports. The report also cited poor communications between APHIS,
which enforces import regulations, and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection
Service (FSIS), which is responsible for inspecting meat.

USDA officials said
they are working to improve coordination between the inspection services
and are looking into setting up a central computer system for tracking
products that are being held at ports.

In another case of inter-agency
coordination, USDA’s FSIS announced plans to modify its approach to testing
for chemical residues in meat and poultry – to be more consistent with
FDA policy. FSIS said that it will begin to post a list of livestock or
poultry sellers with repeat residue violations on its home page and will
modify its policy by condemning entire animal carcasses if violative levels
of chemical residue are found in target tissues.

Currently, FSIS reports
residue violations to the FDA, which then investigates the violation and
maintains a list of violators with more than one violation in a 12-month
period. Also, FSIS condemns only the target tissue or organ that contains
the high residue level. If no residue is found in muscle tissue, FSIS
releases the muscle for consumption.

FSIS will now test only
target tissues for which residue limits have been established by the FDA
or EPA. If a target tissue test exceeds residue levels, the entire carcass
will be condemned unless residue limits and a testing method specific
to muscle tissue have been established. This change will be effective
September 5, 2001.

In US trade relations
news, Bush administration officials are asking the European Union (EU)
to abandon its newly drafted restrictions on genetically modified foods.

The new standards call
for all products made from engineered material to bear a label saying
they contain “genetically modified organisms”. They also require producers
to document the source of all their ingredients. Since the US crop-handling
system does not generally separate modified and conventional crops, US
businesses consider the EU’s new requirements impractical.

In a letter to Secretary
of State Colin Powell, USDA secretary Ann Veneman, US Trade Representative
Robert Zoellick, and 24 US trade organizations said the proposed EU guidelines
on biotechnology in agriculture are “commercially unworkable, inconsistent
with WTO obligations and would result in billions of dollars of lost US

But European officials
disagree, arguing that the Bush administration is trying to impose US
acceptance of biotech food on a European public that does not believe
these products are safe despite scientists’ claims.


John Henshaw has been
named Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
(OSHA). This is the agency in charge of setting workplace safety standards
and any future ergonomic standards – an important issue for the food industry.

Prior to his nomination,
Henshaw served as director for environment, safety and health at Astaris
LLC, a joint venture between Solutia Inc. and FMC. From 1997 to 2000 he
served in a similar position with Solutia Inc.

back next month for updates and new developments.

By Pam Ahlberg

Pam can be reached
by email at: