MAD COW and your fertilizer

Written in 2003

Perhaps the recent finding of mad cow will be a wake up call to Americans who naïvely believe that the government is protecting the food supply; a supposition that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  It appears that many regulations are not designed for food protection, but instead to save waste generating industries money.  From the recycling of hazardous wastes to make fertilizer to the recycling of animal feces to make animal feed, regulations appear to be written for the convenience of industry.

While the case of “mad cow” in Washington State may have been caused by unintentionally contaminated feed, there is another equally plausible scenario that state and federal agencies are not discussing with the public – the feeding of contaminated poultry feces to cattle.  In 1997 when the FDA banned the feeding of ruminant proteins to cattle — a practice known to cause “mad cow disease” — they did not ban the inclusion of these proteins in feed to other animals.  This allowed ruminant proteins from healthy and 4-D animals (dead, dying, disabled or diseased) to be “recycled” into animal feed and pet foods, rather than being disposed.  Poultry feed is one recipient of these waste proteins.  The problem is that poultry poop has routinely been used as cattle feed, keeping the prohibited cycle of “feeding cattle-to-cattle” intact. (In 1980 the FDA reversed a 1967 prohibition on feeding poultry waste to cattle, leaving the regulation of feeding animal wastes to the individual states.  45 FR 86272-86276).

In August 2002 I attended an American Association of Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) meeting in Kansas City where this topic was discussed in “light of the recent BSE warning.”  Lead by Steve Wong of the California Department of Agriculture, the discussion centered around the large volumes of “potentially contaminated” poultry litter that could no longer be used as cattle feed, nor ever be spread as fertilizer on land that would ever graze cattle.  Since prions cannot be destroyed, this begs the question, where will these “potentially contaminated” poultry litters be disposed?  My guess is as fertilizer for home gardeners.

The bottom line is we have a waste disposal problem in this country.  Whether it’s waste from steel mills and coal fired power plants used in fertilizer and lime, or 4-D proteins and animal feces used in feed and pet food, we are the ultimate recipients of industries’ waste.  The question is what are we going to do about it?

Without pressure from consumers, this will not change.  The safety of our food supply is our responsibility.  Contact your congressman today and tell them that we need one agency overseeing our food safety and that under no circumstance should our food or the environment in which it grows, be used for disposal of industrial wastes.

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