D.C. (July 9) U.S. Expands
Mad Cow Restrictions
The ban affects products made from animals 30 months of age and older, the age in which the government has said the brain-wasting disease can be found. The restrictions prohibit the use of the brain and spinal cord, where the misshapen proteins blamed for mad cow disease are considered most likely to be found. The banned parts from the older animals also include skulls, eyes, and nervous system tissue close to the spinal cord.
However, the use of tallow, a processed fat made from cattle, will still be allowed provided it carries less than .15 percent impurities, which could include proteins. Tallow is used in cosmetics, but FDA has said that the high heat and pressure used to make it should minimize any risk of having mad cow infectious agent in tallow. Also banned in cosmetics is any material from cattle that cannot stand on their own. Since January, those animals cannot be used for meat but they can be sent to rendering plants, which produce tallow.
The FDA directed manufacturers and processors that use prohibited cattle parts to immediately switch to alternative ingredients.
disease is also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or
BSE. People who eat meat containing the misshapen proteins, known
as prions, face a risk of contracting a rare but fatal human condition,
variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
The new rules on products used by people are proper, but don't address the underlying problem, said Carol Tucker Foreman, food policy director of Consumer Federation of America. ''I'm glad they did it,'' she said.
However, even before the changes, ''the amount of risk there is not very large,'' Foreman said.
The big problem is the government's decision to delay making new rules on livestock feed, Foreman said. ''If you've got a hole there, you've got a hole in the protection,'' she said. ''It means nothing will happen any time soon.''
The agency also said it would further study adding more restrictions on livestock feed to bolster its bulwark 1997 rule against feeding cattle protein made from other cattle. The goal is to block transmission of the prions through feed.
The proposed new restrictions would remove the risk materials from all animal feed, including pet food, to control against the possibility that feed containing the prions could wind up fed to cattle even though it was meant for other species.
The government also is considering a ban on all feed use of materials from animals that die on farms or which are taken to slaughterhouses but cannot stand up, again to guard against the possibility that such animals could have BSE that could get passed into the supply chain.
Another proposal is a ban on the use of all mammalian and poultry protein in feed for cud-chewing animals, which include sheep as well as cattle. Sheep can get scrapie, a condition similar to BSE.
The feed restrictions are in line with the recommendations that an international review panel created by the Agriculture Department made in February.
The call for public comment on the possible new rules was made with the Agriculture Department. --
LONDON (May 27) SARS antibodies found in workers who handled exotic animals at a meat market in southern China lend further support to the theory that the disease jumped from animals to humans, a World Health Organization scientist said today.
Last week, scientists reported they had found evidence of the SARS virus in three species of mammals for sale at a food market in Shenzhen.
Now, medical checks on 10 workers at the market found that five had at one time been infected with the SARS virus, without becoming severely ill. Experts say the findings strengthen the link between animals and humans.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Hong Kong in collaboration with the Shenzhen Disease Prevention and Control Center, found SARS antibodies in the blood of the five workers at Dongmen Market. Antibodies are disease-fighting chemicals tailored for specific bugs. They are evidence of a prior infection, but do not pinpoint when infection occurred or how severe it was.
Dr. Klaus Stohr, WHO's chief SARS virologist who is coordinating global research on the virus, said the study participants could not recall becoming ill, which indicates that, at most, they had mild infections.
That finding provides more evidence that there are some people who can become infected with the virus and not develop severe symptoms. Previous studies on people from the Amoy Gardens apartment complex in Hong Kong, where more than 300 people caught SARS, provided the first clue that the virus can cause a milder form of the illness.
"We knew that in humans there was a wider spectrum of disease, so it's not a big surprise to find this now in other humans," Stohr said. "However, these are now people who have been exposed to animals which are excreting the virus, so that indicates there is something going on between the animals and the humans."
He Jianfan, director of microbiology at the Shenzhen Disease Prevention and Control Center, said he believes the results indicate the workers caught the virus from the animals, developed a mild form of the disease, but then the virus mutated into a more virulent form before it was passed on to other humans.
"We have an end point and a beginning, but what's happening in between? We don't know," Stohr said. "I believe that this is one of the more likely hypotheses that would fit into the pattern of what we have seen with other diseases."
"The idea that the animals could have gotten the virus from humans cannot be ruled out," Stohr said, "but the findings add another piece to the puzzle and further support the theory that it jumped from animals to humans."
"Now knowing that the humans have also (developed antibodies), it would make it a bit more likely that really the animals are giving it to the humans," he said.
"The data are incomplete but there appears to be a link between the severity of the disease and the duration and amount of virus excretion in the humans," Stohr said, adding that the people who developed antibodies and a mild form of the disease may not shed enough virus to spread it. --
WASHINGTON D.C. (February 5) More than half of 35 large meat processing factories reviewed recently by the government had shortcomings in their plans for protecting meat from harmful bacteria.
A preliminary assessment showed that 21 of the plants had problems with their plans to prevent E. coli contamination, Garry McKee, the Agriculture Department's food safety administrator, said Tuesday.
The problems in the plans were "scientific design issues and not food safety issues,'' he said.
Steven Cohen, an agency spokesman, said most of the plants failed to keep records up to date.
Department officials began checking plants last fall to ensure they were following written plans to prevent E. coli, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning, from contaminating meat. Plants that didn't follow their strategies were sent letters telling them to correct the problems within 30 days, Cohen said.
The government requires plants to create their own prevention plans, known as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point strategies.
"If plants don't conduct their hazard analysis correctly, or there's something wrong with their HACCP plan the way that they reassessed it and so forth there will be actions taken,'' warned Elsa Murano, the department's undersecretary for food safety.
The department has been criticized by members of Congress and consumer groups for how it handled large meat recalls last year that were linked to several illnesses. For instance, ConAgra Beef in Greeley, Colo., recalled 19 million pounds of ground beef after it was linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened 22 people.
Carol Tucker Foreman, head of the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy Institute, said plants are endangering public health in failing to adhere to their prevention plans.
"If there's a scientific design problem, either there's something wrong with the notion about what HACCP ought to be, or the HACCP notion is fine but companies are operating in such a way that they're going to have a food safety problem,'' she said.
The department is slated to complete its assessment of E. coli prevention plans at all plants by this summer, Cohen said.
President Bush proposed spending $675 million on food safety next year in the budget he submitted to Congress on Monday. Murano said $5.5 million of that would finance training of plant inspectors and $4.3 million would be spent to hire 80 new ones. The agency now has 7,610 inspectors.
In addition, $18 million would support the USDA's Office of Food Security and Emergency Preparedness to defend against terrorists' attempts to taint the food supply. --
PHILADELPHIA (November 13) Wampler Foods recalled all cooked deli products made since May at a suburban plant and halted production because the meat is possibly contaminated with listeria, authorities said.
The recall of about 27.4 million pounds of meat is the largest in USDA history. It follows an Oct. 9 recall of 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken products at the plant in Franconia.
The company voluntarily expanded the recall to all cooked deli products made from May 1 through Oct. 11 and halted production at the facility about 25 miles north of Philadelphia after receiving test results of samples taken from floor drains.
"We want consumers to be aware of the recall because of the potential for foodborne illness,'' said Dr. Garry L. McKee, the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator. "Diners may also wish to ask if their meals contain the recalled products.''
The national recall is the largest in the history of the US Department of Agriculture, inspection service spokesman Steven Cohen said.
Each package being recalled bears the plant number P-1351 inside the USDA mark of inspection and a production date. Wampler officials said the recall didn't include fresh turkeys and that it should have no effect on the holiday season.
The discovery was the result of a scientific investigation into the cause of illnesses, deaths and miscarriages in the Northeast from the listeria strain, the federal agency said.
No Wampler's products have been linked to that outbreak, said David Van Hoose, Wampler's chief executive officer.
At least 120 illnesses and 20 deaths were caused by listeria in eight Northeast states since early summer. The genetic strain that caused those illnesses is different than the strain found at the plant, officials said.
"We don't have any scientific evidence at this point that there is a connection, but our analysis of sampling in that plant is not complete,'' Cohen said.
The deli products were sold to consumers in retail groceries, delicatessens and food service distributors under the Wampler Foods and select private labels. Company officials said consumers who had cooked meats produced during the recall period should return the meats to where they were purchased for a refund.
Listeria can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea, according to the USDA. It can be fatal in young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems and can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
Van Hoose said plant workers will receive training and the plant will be cleaned before production resumes.
The meat being recalled makes up roughly 6 percent of the company's total turkey production, he said. The company, part of Pilgrim's Pride Corp., based in Pittsburgh, Texas, did not say how much revenue it would lose as a result of the shutdown.
A recall of contaminated hamburger linked to E. coli bacteria illnesses among 19 people is being expanded to 18 million pounds and 21 states, the Agriculture Department said.
Consumers with questions can call the company at toll-free at 1.877.260.7110 or the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 1.800.535.4555. --
Web: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: http://www.fsis.usda.gov
WASHINGTON D.C. (July 19) A recall of contaminated hamburger linked to E. coli bacteria illnesses among 19 people is being expanded to 18 million pounds and 21 states, the Agriculture Department said Friday.
"This action is being taken as a cautionary measure to ensure the protection of public health," said Agrculture Secretary Ann Veneman. She said. "Public health health is our number one priority and it is our number one concern."
The beef recall by ConAgra Beef Co. of Greeley, Colo., expands a previous recall at the end of last month. E. Coli bacteria associated with the beef has sickened at least 19 people in Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming, the agency said.
The meat was produced between April 12 and July 11, officials said. Officials are still collecting details and expect to release later information that will allow consumers to identify products that should be returned to stores or discarded.
"This has just begun," said Elsa Murano, the undersectary for food safety. She said no E. coli has been found at the plant since July 11.
ConAgra is cooperating with the Agriculture Department, officials said. Veneman, asked if the department will cite the company for violations, said a government investigation at the plant is continuing.
The recall is the biggest since 1997, when Hudson Foods recalled 25 million pounds of ground beef after 15 people in Colorado fell ill from E. coli after eating hamburger from its Columbus, Neb. plant.
Two weeks ago, the company recalled 354,200 pounds of ground beef and nearly a month after a positive E. coli test at a Denver packing house raised the first sign of trouble.
E. coli is a bacteria found in the intestinal tracts and feces of livestock.
If it contaminates meat, it can lead to digestive illnesses and potentially death in humans. Health officials have been urging consumers to cook their ground beef to 160 degrees in the center to completely kill the pathogen.
Agriculture officials said there have been at least 17 confirmed cases of illness in Colorado, one in Wyoming and one in South Dakota. No one is currently hospitalized, although some people have been admitted and released, they said.
Testing is under way in other states as public health officials tried to establish the scope of the outbreak.
The voluntary recall is of beef trim which is used to make ground beef, as well as fresh and frozen ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7, officials said.
The first ConAgra beef recall involved cases shipped to Colorado, Alabama, Virginia, Maryland, New Mexico, Kansas, Michigan, Texas, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, New York, California, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee, New Jersey, Minnesota, Arizona and Idaho.
The Agriculture Department has not released a list of states involved in the updated recall.
"We are not certain at this time whether every single state in the nation has received some of the products," said Steven Cohen, an Agriculture Department spokesman.
Americans ate 69.5 pounds of beef per person in 2000, reflecting steady but modest increases since 1993, when consumption fell to 65.1 pounds, officials said. --
WASHINGTON D.C. (May 23) A bacteria testing system meant to ensure that ground beef is safe instead is allowing potentially tainted meat to be put on the market, consumer advocacy groups said Thursday.
A study of Agriculture Department records found the meat safety system plagued by delays after it was started in early 1998.
At some plants, testing stopped for months at a time before being completed. In other cases, the department waited weeks to take corrective action at plants that had clearly flunked, said the report released by Public Citizen and the Government Accountability Project.
The report accused USDA of operating under a ''don't look, don't find policy'' that is ''fundamentally deceiving the public with false reassurances'' about the safety of meat.
Elsa Murano, USDA's undersecretary for food safety, said the testing system ''is continuously being reviewed, evaluated and improved'' and that the department is ''aggressively targeting'' plants that fail to control bacteria.
The groups said the findings raise questions about testing data that the department has presented as evidence of reduced salmonella contamination at plants.
''Companies were failing these tests and USDA was allowing them to continue to put out meat stamped inspected and approved for extended periods of time, and they're still doing it,'' said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy Institute.
In addition to being a health hazard itself, the presence of salmonella is considered by USDA to be an indication of sanitation problems in meat plants. The Clinton administration developed the testing program after a 1993 E. coli outbreak linked to tainted burgers killed four people and sickened hundreds.
Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children, the frail and the elderly. Healthy people infected with salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Under USDA's rules, ground beef processors are considered to have failed the tests if six of 53 meat samples test positive for the bacteria. But even if the first six samples are positive, USDA doesn't consider a plant to have failed until all 53 samples are completed - a process that can take months, the report said.
At one Texas plant cited by the report, 16 weeks passed after the sixth positive sample was discovered before any corrective action was required, the report said. By the time all 53 samples were collected, 25 were positive for salmonella. At an Arkansas plant, it was 19 weeks after the sixth positive sample until the department took action.
USDA officials say they wait until the testing is complete to require corrective action so they can determine the extent of the problem.
Other data in the report indicated the pace of testing accelerated from 1998 to 2001. ''It's accurate to say at the beginning of the testing program there were more gaps than there are now. The agency has been upfront and open in recognizing that this was a big undertaking,'' said Patricia Abraham, who oversees the testing program.
Last year, the Bush administration abandoned a court battle with the meat industry over the government's authority to close plants that repeatedly failed the tests. An appeals court said in December that salmonella alone doesn't make meat unsafe and ruled the department could not close plants based on the test results.
The testing standards are based on average contamination rates in the 1990s and vary with the type of meat and poultry. The meat industry says they are not scientifically based.
''If the presence or absence of salmonella on a raw product were a measure of whether a product is safe or unsafe, then the government would be forced to require that only canned and cooked foods be sold,'' said Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, a trade group.
USDA long has credited the testing for its reported drops in salmonella levels on meat and poultry. Industry officials say the decline is due to improvements they have made in plant sanitation systems.
Last year, 2.8 percent of ground beef tested positive for salmonella bacteria, compared with 3.3 percent in 2000 and 6.4 percent in 1998, according to the Agriculture Department.
The department recently announced that it would start requiring beef-grinding plants to have at least one anti-microbial treatment for beef - or else buy their meat from a slaughterhouse that does. See I Do Not Eat Dead Animals. --
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