WASHINGTON – Closing loopholes in protections against mad cow disease, the Food and Drug Administration (search) on Friday banned brains and other cattle parts that could carry the disease's infectious agent from use in cosmetics and dietary supplements.
The action puts the agency's restrictions in line with those issued by the Agriculture Department (search) to keep those cattle parts out of meat after the brain-wasting disease was found in December in a Holstein (search) cow in Washington state.
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.
Mad cow disease (search) 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 (search).
"Today's actions continue our strong commitment to public health protections against BSE," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
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 (search). "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.