By Bill Johnson
Thousands of tons of livestock feed are being recalled in the U.S. by producers and distributors due to the "possibility" that "a small amount" of banned bovine material - likely meant to go into poultry feed - got mixed into cattle feed, according government and industry officials.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday that two types of feed supplements - one containing ruminant material and one without - may have been produced with the same equipment in an Alabama factory. That presents a problem, FDA officials said, because it means there could be "cross-contamination" of the feed products.
Cattle aren't allowed to consume any ruminant material under the agency's 1997 feed ban that was implemented to prevent the spread of mad-cow disease in the U.S. Cattle are known to contract mad-cow disease by eating infected ruminant material and that is why FDA banned the practice.
But other livestock, such as poultry and swine, are allowed to eat ruminant material, creating the potential for mix-ups.
The core of livestock recall lies with H. J. Baker and Bro. Inc., a company that makes feed supplements for dairy cattle, poultry and other livestock used by manufacturers across the country, said FDA. It was in June that the FDA announced the H.J. Baker recall and now FDA is releasing recall notices for individual feed producers that used the H.J. Baker supplements.
The FDA has so far asked that producers in nine states recall thousands of pounds of feed product. One U.S. feed producer was instructed by the FDA to recall about 28 million pounds, although the likelihood of contamination is unclear and the company disputes the amount.
Mark Hohnbaum, a vice president at H.J. Baker, said this week that the problems discovered by FDA were "procedural and clerical" issues, but no contamination was confirmed.
When asked about specific procedures that may have been violated, Hohnbaum said it had to do with the fact that the company's Albertville, Ala., facility produced both the dairy cattle supplements and protein feed products for poultry.
FDA recall notices for two of the feed distributors that were clients of H.J. Baker listed amounts of about 14,000 tons and "?????" The "?????" amount was included in the recall release for Kentucky-based Burkmann Feeds LLC. Burkmann officials expressed confusion this week over the recall.
The company shipped an order of feed with the H.J. Baker supplements to one of its dairy clients in March 2005. More than a year later, Burkmann was asked to get the product back.
"FDA called us and we sent the dairy a letter to inform them, but the dairy feed was fed over a year ago so it's long gone," a Burkmann official said. Officials at Wisconsin-based feed producer Vita Plus Corp. also expressed confusion over the recall. The company is listed by FDA as recalling about 28 million pounds, or roughly 14,000 tons.
A Vita Plus official said the company only added the H.J. Baker supplements in question to about 600 tons of feed and were successful in getting back about 160 tons. The 28-million-pound figure listed by FDA is the total amount of feed that Vita Plus produced since February 2005, said Richard Sellers, a vice president with the American Feed Industry Association.
Not all of the feed companies that were asked to recall product made with H.J. Baker supplements supply product to dairies.
The FDA also asked Alabama-based Tucker Milling LLC - which makes feed for birds and fish - to recall product because it wasn't labeled with the warning: "Do not feed to ruminants." Cross-contamination is a "modest" but real threat in the potential spread of mad-cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, if cattle are fed the ruminant material, according to a study performed by Harvard University researchers.
"We agree that (cross-contamination) slows the rate at which BSE is eliminated from a cattle population after it is introduced," the researchers said.
An expert hired by USDA to review the Harvard report - unnamed in a document released by USDA - stressed that the report underestimated the threat of cross-contamination. The USDA has found three cows infected with BSE in the U.S., one of which was discovered in Alabama.