- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

The Food and Drug Administration has failed to properly enforce its restrictions on animal feed that are intended to keep mad cow disease from spreading if it enters the country, congressional investigators say.
Feed mills and other firms that violate the rules are seldom punished, and FDA has never identified all the businesses that should be inspected, the General Accounting Office said in a report released yesterday.
Moreover, FDA's database of inspection records "is so severely flawed that until corrected it should not be used to assess compliance," the report said.
The agency outlawed the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal to cattle, sheep and goats in 1997 and imposed a series of rules to ensure that feed mills comply with the ban.
Animals are believed to get the brain-wasting disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, through eating the brains or nervous-system tissues from infected animals.
Meat and bone meal long have been added to animal feed as protein supplements.
The disease never has been found in the United States but has devastated the beef industry in Europe and has spread to Japan.
An FDA spokesman had no immediate comment yesterday on the GAO report.
In a letter to the investigators, however, FDA said it is correcting problems in its inspection system.
Improvements in the system "will make the present small risk of introduction and spread [of mad cow disease] even smaller," the agency said.
The food industry became alarmed last year about the FDA's problems enforcing the rules and began requiring meat processors to certify that the cattle were not given prohibited feed.
Slaughterhouses, in turn, started requiring similar paperwork from their cattle suppliers.
The congressional investigators said "the nature and severity of the problem" in FDA's enforcement of the feed ban "point to insufficient attention by FDA management."

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