Food Safety:

Controls Can Be Strengthened to Reduce the Risk of Disease Linked to Unsafe Animal Feed

RCED-00-255: Published: Sep 22, 2000. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the risks to human health posed by unsafe feed consumed by food-producing animals, focusing on the: (1) extent to which unsafe feed has been linked to human health problems in the United States; and (2) actions the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are taking to ensure the safety of animal feed.

GAO noted that: (1) in the United States, only a relatively few incidents of human illness have been traced to contaminated animal feed; (2) even when public health officials are able to trace the source of a disease to a food product, such as eggs, they cannot usually determine if the original source of the contamination is the animal feed, the improper handling of the product, or another factor; (3) while livestock or poultry may in some cases be immune to the contaminants themselves, the food product from these animals can cause human illness; (4) with respect to bovine spongiform/encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States, health officials have not identified any illness in livestock or in humans caused by this disease; (5) however, the Department of Agriculture has several studies underway to test sheep from three Vermont farms suspected of having BSE; (6) no reported incidents of human illness from chemically contaminated animal feed have been identified in the United States; (7) however, illnesses from this source can take years to develop and would be difficult to link to animal feed; (8) FDA has taken some actions to better ensure the safety of animal feed, but problems such as lack of awareness of FDA's regulation, delays in issuing a new FDA regulation to strengthen controls over the bacterial contamination of feed, and DOT's failure to issue regulations for the safe transport of animal feed could lead to human illnesses; (9) in 1997, FDA issued a regulation to prevent BSE in the United States; (10) to assess compliance with this regulation, FDA and state inspectors have visited over 9,100 firms, such as farms that produce their own feed and rendering plants that process meat scraps for animal feed; (11) inspectors found that, 1,700 firms were not aware of the regulation and thus could produce or use animal feed that was not in compliance; (12) FDA officials also told GAO that the agency is developing a regulation to further strengthen controls over bacterial and other contaminants by, among other things, directing feed manufacturers to determine which hazards pose the greatest risks to the safety of their products and to establish controls to minimize these risks; (13) DOT has not issued regulations to ensure the safe transportation of animal feed, as directed by the Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 1990; and (14) according to DOT officials GAO spoke with, the Department has pursued a number of regulatory, administrative, and legislative initiatives to address the statutory mandate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA revised its BSE Feed Ban implementation and enforcement approach to better target higher risk facilities for inspection. This action largely address GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that animal feed in the United States remains free of contaminants that would cause BSE, the Commissioner of FDA should develop and implement an enforcement strategy that contains specific goals and time frames for establishing a system to correct the deficiencies identified during the agency's 2 years of inspecting animal feed firms and to ensure that firms in the future continue to remain in compliance with the regulation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Agency implemented a risk-based approach for ensuring the safety of animal feed for cattle from BSE.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of FDA should establish a schedule for completing the agency's hazard analysis and critical control point-based approach for ensuring the safety of animal feeds.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The President's Council on Food Safety is no longer active. However, in a current assignment, GAO will likely recommend that FDA should implement a regulation, backed by guidance, that FDA investigators and state inspectors ensure that both incoming raw materials and outgoing finished products from firms subject to the feed ban are inspected. The procedure should include an inspection of the vehicles used to transport the products both into and from the feed establishments to ensure that prohibited materials are not mingled with unprohibited materials. This new recommendation will essentially replace the recommendation GAO included in the 00-255 report.

    Recommendation: To ensure the safe transportation of animal feed, the President's Council on Food Safety should work with DOT and FDA, among others, to develop a strategy to regulate animal feed while in transport.

    Agency Affected: President's Council on Food Safety


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