WASHINGTON, D.C. (DTN)--The international panel of animal health experts invited to review the U.S. response to mad cow disease by Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman recommended dramatic changes in the U.S. animal feed supply Feb. 4. The news sent the cattle markets down their limits.

The panel is expected to brief Veneman Feb. 4. U. S. Department of Agriculture and FDA officials have promised to take the recommendations into consideration, but have not promised to follow them.

The panel, which is composed of veterinarians from the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and New Zealand, released a report recommending an exclusion of all specified risk material such as brains and spinal cord tissue from cattle from all animal feed, including pet food, and exclusion of all mammalian and poultry protein from all feeds for ruminant animals.

The United States has banned the risk material from feed for ruminant animals but has allowed it for pigs, chickens and pets. The panel said it was recommending the changes in feed because of the possibility of cross- contamination in the feed manufacturing process and transportation and processing of feed.

Studies in the United Kingdom have shown that cattle can be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE by eating as little as 10 milligrams of infectious brain tissue, the panel reported.

"An inspection program including sampling and testing of feed" is necessary, and fishmeal could be fed to ruminant animals if cross contamination can be prevented, members of the panel said. The problem of disposal of specified risk material safely might be so great that the United States should consider "adding value" through using it as a "fuel source," the report said.

The panel also stressed that it had examined "trade in live cattle and livestock feed ingredients under NAFTA" and that it considers the cases of mad cow disease discovered in Washington state Dec. 23 and that of a cow in Canada last May to be "North American."

Though the cow in Washington state was born in Canada, the case "cannot be dismissed by considering it an 'imported case,'" the report said. Members of the panel said they "encourage the implementation of a national animal identification system that is appropriate to North American farming."

They did not say whether the identification system should be mandatory, but Canada instituted a mandatory system after finding it could get only 70 to 75 percent participation in voluntary programs.

The epidemiological investigation that the USDA has undertaken since the heifer with BSE was found in Washington state has probably produced all the information it can, the report said, and therefore doesn't need to continue.

The United States needs a broad surveillance program because "it is probable that other infected animals have been imported from Canada and possibly also from Europe" and that "infective material has likely been rendered, fed to cattle and amplified within the cattle population," the report said.

Discussing the USDA's decision to ban meat from so-called downer cows from the human food supply, the panel decided it is "imperative" that the USDA gain access to downed animals not brought to slaughter even if that means offering financial incentives to the owners of the animals to strengthening ante-mortem inspections and random testing of aged cattle.

In an obvious criticism of previous U.S. policy of quickly banning beef from countries with mad cow disease and leaving those bans in place for long periods, the report said, the United States "should demonstrate leadership in trade matters by adopting import/export policy in accordance with international standards, and thus encourage the discontinuation of irrational trade barriers when countries identify their first case of BSE."

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