The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering banning meatpackers from processing for human consumption the brains and spinal cores of cattle older than two years, in a measure further to protect the national herd from BSE.

The move would change the way meatpackers process almost five million of the animals they slaughter each year. In Europe, where 116 people are believed to have succumbed to the human form of mad cow disease, far stricter measures are already in place. Packers are widely prohibited from making food from animals that are older than 30 months unless specifically proven to be disease-free. Several countries, notably France, Germany and Italy, have outlawed animals older than 24 months from entering the food chain.

The USDA has hitherto deemed it unnecessary to implement such strict measures, as BSE has not been detected in the US. The USDA has instead focused its efforts on preventing the disease reaching the US in the first place.

Regulators are now considering how to tighten up protection of the food supply, and yesterday posted a discussion document on the Agency’s website. The paper shows they are considering preventing food processors using cattle intestines and salvaging scrap meat from the spines of sick or old animals.

The suggestions will almost inevitably spark a backlash from the meatpacking sector.