The Food and Drug Administration recently reopened comments about their policy of allowing some intestines, but not others, into the U.S. food supply. When the first few cases of mad cow disease started popping up, the FDA’s gut reaction was to ban all guts from food and personal care products. But, in 2005, USDA and FDA amended their draft rule to “permit the use of the entire small intestine for human food” if the last 80 uncoiled inches going to the colon was removed. Since then, though, studies have shown that infectious mad cow prions can be found throughout all parts of the intestine, from the stomach down to the cow’s colon—raising the question of whether all entrails should again be removed.
The North American Meat Association says no, wanting to keep cattle insides inside the food supply, similar to what we heard from the CTFA—the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. They protested that by banning from cosmetics downer and dead cattle, as well as “brain, skull, eyes, [and] spinal cords,” as well as “intestine[s] and tonsils,” our nation’s supply of cosmetics could be put in jeopardy. There could be a tallow shortage for soap, for example. The FDA may not realize that cosmetics and personal care products are a quarter-trillion dollar industry worldwide.
In the end, the FDA tentatively concluded that intestines should continue to be allowed in the food and cosmetic supply, because only trace amounts of infectivity have been found throughout the bowels of cattle—a conclusion they have to make, since, otherwise, all meat would have to be banned as well, because new research shows that mad cow infectivity is in the muscles, too. And, not just the atypical cases of BSE, like the last mad cow found in California, but now we know, the typical BSE as well—bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease). Low levels of infectious prions have been found in the ribs, shoulders, tenderloins, sirloin tips, and round cuts of meat.
The latest estimates out of Britain suggest 15,000 people are currently incubating the human form of mad cow disease, contracted through the consumption of infected meat. Fewer than 200 Brits have died so far of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but the incubation period for this invariably fatal neurodegenerative disease can be decades—the time between eating the meat, and one’s brain filling up with holes.
The fact that so many people are carrying it has important implications for the safety of blood transfusions—that’s why many Americans who’ve lived in England are barred by the Red Cross from donating blood, as well as the safety of handling surgical instruments that may have cut into someone who’s a carrier, since it’s so hard to sterilize anything, once contaminated.
Given these factors, it may be prudent to err on the side of caution when regulating which intestines are allowed on and in our mouths. But, it’s a balance. As one meat company points out, guts are not just used for lipstick, “intestine is… human food, “providing us with [a] precious source of protein which is [evidently] essential for our human population.”
This story was originally published on the NutritionFacts.org Blog.