Farmers wary after mad cow case

FEEDLOT operator Buck Peddicord knows his success depends on the health of the beef cattle being fattened in his pens.

Mr Peddicord and other cattle producers say they would never violate a 1997 Food and Drug Administration ban on feeding cattle parts back to cattle, a ban enacted to guard against the spread of mad cow disease.

Feedlot operators submit to random inspections, and many sign affidavits required by buyers that none of their animals was fed beef bone meal.

Doran Junek, a rancher in western Kansas and executive director of the Kansas Cattlemen's Association, put it more plainly: "The liability you would set yourself up for would wipe you out of the cattle business and would devastate the cattle industry."

The discovery last week of a mad cow case in Washington state has put the spotlight on the 1997 rule. Federal officials, and some outside observers, say the ban is working, but some groups question how well it is enforced and say the regulation doesn't go far enough.

Cattle byproducts, serving as protein supplements, may still be fed to animals such as chickens and pigs. Those animals may in turn wind up being fed to cattle, which some see as a loophole. The FDA, however, says there's no scientific evidence to extend the ban.

Most beef cattle producers use plant products like soybean or cottonseed meal as protein sources at some point, said Bo Reagan, a spokesman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Denver.

"We don't take any chances," said Jim Keller, owner of a feedlot in western Kansas that handles up to 40,000 cattle. Like most feedlot operators, he makes his own feed.

Keller adds soybean meal and manmade supplements to the feed. He has the protein supplements tested weekly for quality control and quarterly for any animal bone meal.

Like other feedlot operators, he signs an affidavit required by buyer in his case Tyson Foods Inc. stating that no cattle being sold were fed beef bone meal. Tyson, the nation's largest beef processor, has been verifying that all its producers comply with the law since early 2001, spokesman Gary Mickelson said.

Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy for the Washington-based Consumer Federation of America, questioned the FDA's high compliance rate.

"I can't say I am confident that is the case because I don't believe there is anybody out there really checking on it on a regular basis," she said. "They could be doing a lot more checking to make sure people are what they are supposed to be doing."

She says the government needs to ban byproducts from cattle and similar animals from all livestock feed.

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