WASHINGTON (AP) – Consumer groups are upset the government is delaying rules intended to keep the infectious agent for mad cow from getting into the feed given to livestock.

Industry groups say the Food and Drug Administration should take its time.

The agency said Friday it wanted to consider additional restrictions to feed proposals announced in January.

The proposals would strengthen a 1997 rule that says cattle feed cannot contain protein made from other cattle. The goal is to prevent aberrant proteins known as prions, which are blamed for the fatal brain-wasting disease, from being transmitted through feed.

The FDA said in January it wanted to stop cattle blood from getting into livestock feed. Also targeted was poultry litter, which could contain spilled poultry feed made with cattle protein.

On Friday, the agency said that in addition to those restrictions, it had developed new ones and wanted to study all of them as a package.

One is a ban on all protein from mammals in feed for cattle. Another is removing high-risk materials, such as the brains and spinal cords of cattle 30 months or older, from feed for all animals. That would prevent cattle from eating prions in feed intended for other species.

The new proposals are in line with recommendations made in February by an international review panel convened by the Agriculture Department.

The FDA said those recommendations offer a more comprehensive approach to keeping the feed supply safe and might make some of the January proposals unnecessary.

Consumer advocates said the government was passing up a chance to act. They had been waiting for the agency to put forward the formal proposals that it had promised in January. At that time, the FDA had given no date.

“They are fiddling while Rome burns,” said Jean Halloran, director of the Consumer Policy Institute of Consumers Union. “They could have gone ahead with these measures immediately.”

To Caroline Smith DeWaal, head of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, it was disappointing that the government chose a process that could take two years.

“It’s worse than I expected,” said Carol Tucker Foreman, food policy director of the Consumer Federation of America. “Nothing will happen any time soon.”

The government says the feed supply is safe and will be even more so because of the proposals under review.

“The series of firewalls already in place offer excellent protection” against mad cow, said the FDA’s acting commissioner, Lester Crawford.

A member of the international review panel said the FDA is taking the right approach.

“This is a logical next step,” said Dr. William Hueston, a veterinarian and director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Animal Health and Food Safety.

For a government agency, the FDA is acting quickly, Hueston said. “Our government is not designed for stuff that moves fast,” he said.

Industry groups say they want time to evaluate how the proposals announced Friday would affect the ways in which their members do business.

The FDA is allowing a 30-day public comment period; the American Feed Industry Association wants 90 days.

“It looks like they threw in everything but the kitchen sink, and we have to take a look at it,” said Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association.

Group members turn meat industry waste into ingredients for feed and other uses including consumer products. If new rules make some carcasses unprofitable to process, the plants could choose not to accept them, he said.

The consumer groups applauded the FDA for new bans on the use in consumer products of materials such as the cattle brains and spinal cords which might harbor the suspect prions. The rule covers products such as cosmetics and dietary supplements.

People who ingest the prions risk a rare fatal disease similar to BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The FDA said the new rule, which takes effect Monday, is aimed at ensuring that people cannot get the disease through the products.

AP-ES-07-10-04 1439EDT

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