The New York Times, Oct 5, 2005 pA18(L)

To Prevent Mad Cow Disease, F.D.A. Proposes New Restrictions on Food for Animals. (National Desk) Donald G. Mcneil Jr..

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2005 The New York Times Company

The Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules yesterday to prevent the spread of mad cow disease by banning brains and spinal cords from older cows in all animal feed.

''This reduces a very, very low risk to even lower,'' said Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, the agency's director of veterinary medicine, in announcing the changes.

But the rules are not as strict as those the agency proposed last year and never adopted, and critics promptly denounced them as inadequate.

The new proposal still allows chickens, pigs and other noncattle animals to be fed material that some scientists consider potentially infectious, including the brains and spinal cords of young animals, and the eyes, tonsils, intestines and nerves of older ones.

Cows can potentially ingest that material because they can be given chicken feed and droppings swept up from the floors of poultry farms, scrapings from restaurant plates, and a calf milk replacement made from cow blood and fat. In the rules proposed in early 2004, poultry litter and plate waste would have been banned.

The F.D.A. and the meat industry are ''totally committed to continuing the practice of feeding slaughterhouse waste to cows,'' said John Stauber, the author of ''Mad Cow U.S.A.'' (1997) and a critic of the meat industry who has called for a ban on feeding all animal protein to livestock.

The major meat processors that also own rendering plants, Mr. Stauber said, want to keep exporting cheap protein or feeding it to their own animals and have lobbied hard to keep the right to do so.

Michael K. Hansen at the Consumers Union, an expert on prion diseases, called the new proposed rules ''completely inadequate.'' Britain, he said, ''took many halfway steps in their efforts to eliminate mad cow disease and failed to stop it,'' and managed only to cut new cases to the low current levels by eliminating all mammal protein in the foodstuff of animals used for food.

Dr. Sundlof, of the F.D.A., said removing the brains and spinal cords of older cattle would remove 90 percent of potentially infectious matter from all animal feed.

Since June 2004, he said, the United States Department of Agriculture has tested 484,000 head of cattle for the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and only one animal born in the United States has tested positive.

His agency, he said, also considered the cost to industry. Getting rid of just brains and spines from older cattle, he said, would create only 64 million pounds of waste that renderers would have to burn or bury, and would cost only about $14 million.

Getting rid of the vertebrae, spines, spinal nerves, eyes, intestines and other potentially infectious parts of all cattle -- including the meat that nerves remain attached to -- would create more than two billion pounds of waste, which he said would be an environmental problem and a big expense for the industry.

Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association, said he was disappointed by the F.D.A. proposal to ban brain or spinal cord from animals not seen by meat inspectors.

Renderers typically pick up dead or dying animals from farms for about $25 a head, he explained, strip off the hide and cook all the rest down into meal and fat to be sold as animal food or even for paint or linoleum.

A slaughterhouse can split a fresh carcass and vacuum out the soft brain and spinal cord, he said, but renderers pick up animals that are bloated or in rigor mortis. The extra costs of removing organs ''may take away the economic incentive,'' he said, ''and carcasses will be disposed of illegally.''

In 1997, the F.D.A. banned feeding ruminants like cattle and sheep to other cattle and sheep, with a few exceptions like calf ''milk replacement'' made from cow blood.

But the ban is widely acknowledged to be imperfect. Some farmers deliberately or accidentally give their cows ruminant feed. Equipment used by rendering plants processes both ruminant and nonruminant feed, which can mix.

The rules proposed yesterday, Dr. Sundlof said, will not be adopted until sometime next year, after a comment period ends on Dec. 19.