Closing loopholes in protections against mad cow disease, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday banned the use of brains and other cattle parts that could carry the disease's infectious agent from cosmetics and dietary supplements.
The action puts the agency's restrictions in line with those issued by the Agriculture Department to keep those cattle parts out of meat after the brain-wasting disease was found in a Washington state Holstein cow in December.
Carol Tucker Foreman, food policy director of Consumer Federation of America, criticized the decision to delay new rules on livestock feed. "If you've got a hole there, you've got a hole in the protection," she said. "It means nothing will happen any time soon."
The agency also said it would study adding more restrictions on livestock feed to bolster its bulwark 1997 rule against feeding cattle protein made from other cattle. The goal is to block transmission of the infectious agent through feed.
The FDA ban affects products made from animals 30 months of age and older, the age at which the government said the disease is detectable. The restrictions prohibit the use of the brain and spinal cord, where the misshapen proteins blamed for mad cow disease are most likely to be found.
The banned parts from older animals also include skulls, eyes and nervous-system tissue close to the spinal cord.
The use of tallow, a processed fat made from cattle, will still be allowed provided it carries less than .15 percent impurities, which could include proteins. Tallow is used in cosmetics, but FDA has said that the high heat and pressure used to make it should minimize any risk of it containing the mad cow infectious agent.
Also banned from cosmetics is any material from animals that cannot stand on their own. Since January, those cattle cannot be used for meat but they can be sent to rendering plants, which produce tallow.
The FDA directed manufacturers and processors that use prohibited cattle parts to switch immediately to alternative ingredients.
Mad cow disease is also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. People who eat meat containing the misshapen proteins, known as prions, face a risk of contracting a rare but fatal human condition, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.