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Are U.S. pets at risk for Mad Cow Disease? Yes!

Mar 26, 2008
In 2001 and again in 2003 the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis examined the risk of mad cow disease to U.S. citizens and determined the risk to be very low to humans. The study stated that as long as the FDA and the USDA continue with current restrictions to processing 'at risk' meat materials into human food and with the current restrictions to processing 'at risk' animal material into animal feed of ruminants (cattle, sheep, pigs), the risk to humans would continue to be low. Unfortunately it is a different circumstance for our pets. Current regulations allow 'at risk materials to be processed into pet food and pet treats - and it is a very common practice.

The existing U.S. rules regarding risk materials not being processed into human food got their start from an outbreak of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom. In the 1980's the UK had a very significant problem with mad cow disease - which was responsible for the death of around 1000 people. During the height of the problem it was reported that the disease spread to many animals including cats. (The amount of information available about the risk of mad cow disease to pets is limited - but there is information about the known risk to cats.) When cats were diagnosed with the feline version of the disease in the UK, European pet food manufacturers voluntarily agreed to restrict the use of risk materials being processed into pet food. "In 1996, however, Agriculture Minister Angela Browning informed the House of Commons that 'mammalian meat and bone meal-powdered residue from culled and rendered cattle is used in pet food.' Labour Parliament member and microbiologist Martyn Jones called Browning's admission 'an astounding revelation. 'This stuff is so risky that they are not even allowed to bury it,' Jones stated. 'Yet they are getting rid of it by passing it on to pet food manufacturers.'

In the U.S. the FDA's current regulations allow 'at risk' materials to be processed into pet food - yet they also realize this is putting our pets at risk. In 2003 a confirmed diagnosed mad cow disease animal was thought to be processed into pet food. Dr. Lester Crawford of the FDA told United Press International "If we determine that some of it was headed for pet food, we would likely recall that," Crawford said. But he noted the agency would not take any action until it gets confirmation, which probably will occur on Monday. The main threat among pets is cats because they "are susceptible to BSE," he said. Dr. Crawford said there is no way of knowing how much pet food would have to be recalled. But he said the FDA does not consider the infectious agent, called a prion, can be diluted to safe levels, so even if a small batch of infected pet food was mixed with a ton of other food, "the ton would have to be destroyed." The FDA understands the threat of mad cow disease to U.S. pets, yet they have not bothered to change the regulations to protect our pets.

In late February 2008 a congressional panel began listening to testimony regarding the recent beef recall. Many are being called to testify - including the Humane Society. Discouragingly - the Humane Society's stance on risk materials has changed since 2004 - now their stance is to allow them into pet food. Quoting a 2004 article"Dr. Michael Greger of the Humane Society of the United States said downer cows that don't pass inspection often wind up in pet food. They yield much less revenue than those that remain standing. The financial incentive for plant operators and employees, then, is to force hurt and sick cows to stand by any means necessary, rather than put them down, Greger said. "A truly comprehensive ban on meat from downer animals is needed," he said. Greger urged lawmakers to support the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, a bill that would ban processing downed animals. That, he said, would take away the incentive for plant workers to prolong the life of a suffering animal. Instead, he said, all downer cows could be euthanized and used for pet food or other products that don't involve human consumption." Again - discouragingly - the Humane Society not only considers it acceptable for sick, diseased downer cattle to be used in pet food - but they also consider it acceptable for pets to consume a euthanized animal and the euthanizing drug. That is not good news. I consider it a complete lack of responsibility on the part of the Humane Society. This is opposite of their stance from a letter dated August 13, 2004 when they asked the FDA to ban risk materials from being processed into pet food. Makes me wonder who has made large donations to the Humane Society since 2004.

Just a FYI - February 26, 2008 - it was reported that a confirmed case of mad cow disease was found in a six year old cow in Alberta, Canada. Good news for pet food manufactured in Canada is that in 2007 Canada strengthened their safety protocol on risk materials to include a ban for their use in pet food. Hopefully, the FDA and the USDA will learn something from our Canadian neighbors BEFORE something terrible happens here. For those that do not know - pet food or pet treat ingredients that could contain processed downer cattle or any euthanized animal are: Meat Meal, Meat and Bone Meal, Meat By-Products, Beef By-Products, Beef By-Product Meal, Animal Fat, and Animal Digest. I can't say this enough, read the ingredient listing of your pet's food and treats.
About the Author
To learn more about pet food and pet food ingredients, visit Susan Thixton's website TruthAboutPetFood.com Register for the free newsletter and if you want to see reviews on hundreds of pet foods, subscribe to Petsumer Report
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