The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) criticized a decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to proceed with implementation of a new feed ban on April 27, 2009, despite numerous objections from farmers, ranchers, states, and members of Congress.
“This decision is extremely disappointing,” says Dr. Elizabeth Parker, Chief Veterinarian for NCBA. “By going ahead with implementation of this unnecessary ban, the FDA is ignoring the substantial costs and environmental burdens it imposes on America’s cattle producers.”
For years, the livestock industry has made it clear to FDA and the Administration that this rule would exacerbate the problems producers are already facing regarding carcass disposal.
In fact, as early as December 2008, NCBA and producers across the country began voicing concerns about increased costs and disposal issues as many renderers discontinued their services in anticipation of this ban. “Unless FDA provides solutions for these problems, delaying the compliance date is an empty gesture,” says Parker.
FDA is establishing a compliance date of October 26, 2009 to give renderers additional time to comply with the new regulations and allow producers more time to identify appropriate methods of disposal. However, they have not provided any means to resolve the disposal issues created by the rule.
“This amounts to an unfunded mandate,” Parker continues. “FDA has acknowledged that this rule creates tremendous disposal issues for producers, yet they have not identified any viable solutions to that problem. Moving forward with implementation without addressing these concerns is irresponsible.”
In a pre-publication of the final rule, FDA said that, “the underlying bases for these new measures were fully considered through the notice and rulemaking process.” Yet the FDA never completed a risk assessment to determine the costs and benefits of the new feed ban.
“The rule creates significant costs and environmental problems, and has no demonstrable benefit,” Parker explains. “Our existing feed ban has proven highly successful in limiting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the U.S. herd.”
Since 1997, the U.S. has prohibited ruminant feed from including parts of other ruminants. This proactive “ruminant to ruminant” feed ban, combined with other government and industry safeguards, is responsible for the extremely low level risk of BSE in the U.S. This was confirmed by years of robust USDA surveillance and reaffirmed by the U.S. “BSE Controlled Risk” designation by the OIE, the international animal health standard setting body.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau: FDA moving too fast
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation was among groups requesting a 60-day delay in the effective date of the rule, saying more time was needed to evaluate unintended consequences.
“It’s estimated that farmers will be charged between $100 and $150 per animal to have a rendering company pick up their animals,” reads the letter from Jeff Lyon, Farm Bureau’s director of governmental relations. “In addition, rendering companies will have the increased burden of trying to determine the exact of age of animals which is difficult to do.”
“With nearly 1.3 million milk cows in Wisconsin, we are concerned about the adverse effect the rule will have on the Wisconsin dairy industry and our rendering industry,” the letter continues. “With a 6% annual death loss (national average), there will be nearly 80,000 animals annually in Wisconsin that will need to be disposed of from our nearly 14,000 dairy farms.”
WFBF believes that rendering is the best way to dispose of dead animals, and that Wisconsin is fortunate to have a relatively strong rendering industry with a selection of vendors for farmers to choose from.
“The increased cost to farmers will cause many of them to not utilize rendering companies and dispose of their animals on the farm which has the potential to adversely effect the environment for the long term,” reads the letter. “In addition, if dairy farmers are not using rendering companies, the cost for the pickup of other livestock will also increase because of more distance between stops.”
Farm Bureau also contends the risk factors for BSE are overstated and need to be more fully evaluated before the rule takes effective.
Since BSE was discovered in the United States, nearly 900,000 tests have been conducted since June 1, 2004 (more than 100,000 in Wisconsin) to determine whether BSE is an issue in the United States. To date, only two animals have tested positive for BSE under the program and both cases were in animals born before the United States banned the practice of feeding recycled ruminant protein to other ruminants.
“It appears that FDA is trying to get to absolute zero, when in fact we are nearly there,” read the letter.
WFBF supports strengthening the ruminant feed ban in order to eliminate possible loopholes that might allow specified risk materials (SRM) to reach ruminants through misfeeding or cross-contamination. Better labeling, which is not part of the rule, would help farmers with compliance. Due to negligible chance of discovering BSE, WFBF believes that SRM could be included in pet food without a significant health risk.