Vegan Health ArticlesMAD COW UPDATE: 2005: FDA gutless and brainless; our food and cosmetic supply should be so lucky
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From Michael Greger, M.D.

Early last month, while all eyes were on Katrina, the FDA quietly announced that it was even backtracking on the few rules it had already put in place. You may remember my April 2004 mad cow update  in which I encouraged everyone to put pressure on the FDA to follow the European example and exclude not only small intestine from the human food and cosmetics supply, but all cow/calf colons and rectums as well. Not only did they refuse to ban these potentially risky tissues, but the exclusion of all smaller intestines was evidently so costly to the sausage industry that they've decided to allow them back in, forcing producers just to cut off the last few feet.[1] As one public health commentator commentated: "So while the FDA may be gutless, your food and cosmetics won't be."[2]

What about all the other rules that the FDA promised? Perhaps realizing that the internal contradiction--barring blood donors from the UK for fear of prion transmission through blood on the one hand,[3] but on the other continuing to allow the feeding of cattle blood to calves--the FDA held a news briefing January 2004, a month after the first discovered U.S. case of mad cow disease, and finally announced that they would ban the feeding of cow blood and chicken wastes to cattle. "Today we are bolstering our BSE firewalls to protect the public," the FDA Commissioner said.[4] The New York Times reported that the FDA commissioner said the new rules would actually take effect "in a few days," as soon as they were published in the Federal Register (thereby making the ban official). The move was congratulated by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services as "a giant step forward." Consumer groups offered praise. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, a consumer group in Washington, said: "This is long, long overdue. I wonder whether it's too little too late."[5] It turns out it was nothing at all. The FDA never published the rules, allowing U.S. farmers to continue these risky practices. The "few days" turned into over 20 months and counting.

The promised "no-brainer" exclusion of all cow brains from chicken and pig feed? Too expensive. As reported by the New York Times, "Getting rid of the vertebrae, spines, nerves, eyes, intestines and other potentially infectious parts of all cattle" would be a "big expense for the industry,"[6] The FDA is thinking now of just excluding older cow brains: "Getting rid of just brains and spines from older cattle," FDA director Stephen Sundlof explained, "would create only 64 million pounds of waste that would have to be burned or buried at a cost of about $14 million."[7] The lesson, I guess, is that it's cheaper to feed potentially hazardous waste to the chickens and pigs people eat, rather than place the burden on the meat industry to have to dispose of it properly. The New York Times summarizes: "The new proposal would still allow animals to be fed material that some scientists consider potentially infectious, including the brains and spinal cords of young animals; the eyes, tonsils, intestines and nerves of old animals; chicken food and chicken dung swept up from the floors of poultry farms; scrapings from restaurant plates; and calf milk made from cow blood and fat."[8] Oh, and the "new proposal" will be adopted "sometime next year."[9]

Of course there's no guarantee the "gutted" rules will ever even be effectively enforced. In response to Freedom of Information Act requests initiated by Ralph Nader's group Public Citizen, the USDA finally just released it's records showing more than 1,000 violations of the current mad cow rules just since 2004.[10]

The one glimmer of hope is the possibility that the ban on feeding America "downer" cows too sick or injured to even stand may soon be made permanent. September 20, 2005, the US Senate voted in favor of such a proposal, and thanks to Senator Akaka (D-HI) and Representatives Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Steve LaTourette (R-OH), the Downed Animal Protection Act has been reintroduced to permanently exclude all downer livestock from the American food supply. Please urge your Senators and Representatives to vote yes on Senate Bill 1779 and House Bill 3931. For updates on this and other important legislations, sign up to Humanelines at

In other mad cow news, if thoughts of consuming the infected guts of calves weaned on the blood of cows fed pig brains and chicken feces doesn't dull one's appetite, how about feeding cows human remains?

The origin of mad cow disease has always been a bit of a mystery. We know it spread because of industry-mandated cow-eat-cow cannibalism, but how did the first cow get it to trigger the chain reaction? Did it come from scrapie, the sheep form of the disease? Cows have, after all, been forced to eat sheep brains, bones and blood for decades to cut feed costs. The latest theory, though, published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal,[11] is that it may have originated from cows being fed what human cannibals have called "long pork." The other, other white meat.

During the 60's and 70's Britain imported hundreds of thousands of tons of whole and crushed bones from the Indian subcontinent in part for use as animal feed. Bone collecting is an important source of income for many Indian peasants. The problem is that dead animals and dead Hindus float side by side down the Ganges. Religious custom in India has people disposing of half-cremated human corpses in the rivers which may wash up downstream and be picked up during bone collection. If one of those corpses died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad cow-like diseases, the prion pathogens could have been waiting riverside in the bone marrow only to be picked up and picked off by a cow thousands of miles away.[12]

Indian officials have dismissed the theory, claiming that they have very few CJD cases (they don't, after all, tend to eat many cows). In any case, natural herbivores like cows shouldn't be forced to eat brains, guts, blood or bones from any species. Instead of feeding cows Soylent Green, perhaps we should let them stick to the soy, and the greens.


[1] U.S. Food and Drug Administration news release. FDA amends interim final rule "use of materials derived from cattle in human food and cosmetics." September 6, 2005.


[3] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug AdministrationCenter for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER). "Revised Preventive Measures to Reduce the Possible Risk of Transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) by Blood and Blood Products. January 2002.

[4] Martin A. "FDA Adds to Ban on What Cows May Be Fed." Chicago Tribune27 January 2004.

[5] "FDA Partially Tightens Up Feed Rules to Stop Spread of Mad Cow." New York Times27 January 2004.

[6] McNeil DG, jr. U.S. offers new animal feed rules, but critics assail them. New York Times, October 4, 2005..

[7] McNeil DG, jr. U.S. offers new animal feed rules, but critics assail them. New York Times, October 4, 2005.

[8] McNeil DG, jr. U.S. offers new animal feed rules, but critics assail them. New York Times, October 4, 2005.

[9] McNeil DG, jr. U.S. offers new animal feed rules, but critics assail them. New York Times, October 4, 2005.

[10] Fabi R. USDA finds 1,000 violations of mad cow rules. Reuters, August 15, 2005.

[11] Colchester AC and Colchester NT. 2005. The origin of bovine spongiform encephalopathy: the human prion disease hypothesis. Lancet 366(9488):856-61.

[12] Khamsi R. 2005. British duo probes origin of mad cow disease. Nature News, 1 September 2005.

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.