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New Regulations on BSE Will Have Minimal Impact on Virginia Cattle Producers

Livestock Update, November 2005

Dee Whittier and John Hall, Ph.D. Virginia Cooperative Extension, VA Tech

In a recent decision, the FDA has made the US animal feed supply safer by further elimination of materials that may contain the prion suspected of causing bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) from all animal feedstuffs. Since January of 2004, cattle producers in the Mid-Atlantic region have been waiting for the FDA to decide if there would be a ban on the feeding of poultry litter and the use of colostrum substitutes that included bovine serum constituents. Instead the FDA decided to ban all high risk material from any animal feed including pet food. On October 5, 2005 the FDA made the following announcement:

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced new measures to help further protect consumers against the agent thought to cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as "mad cow disease"). Today's proposed regulation builds on a series of firewalls that include FDA's 1997 feed regulation which prohibits the use of certain mammalian-origin proteins in ruminant feed (e.g. for cattle and sheep), but allows these materials to be used in feed for non-ruminant species. The removal of high-risk materials from all animal feed -- including pet food -- will protect against the transmission of the agent of BSE that could occur either through cross-contamination of ruminant feed with non-ruminant feed or feed ingredients during feed manufacture and transport, or intentional or unintentional misfeeding of non-ruminant feed to ruminants on the farm.

In July 2004, FDA and USDA ... asked for comment on feed control measures such as prohibiting the use of all mammalian and poultry protein in ruminant feed. FDA also asked for comment on the set of measures that the agency had announced in January 2004 including the elimination of the exemptions for blood and blood products and "plate waste" from the 1997 ruminant feed rule, a prohibition on the use of poultry litter in ruminant feed, and a requirement for dedicated equipment and facilities to prevent cross-contamination.

FDA has carefully analyzed the comments it received ...(in 2004) and has concluded that the other feed control measures discussed ... are not needed if the high-risk tissues identified in this proposed rule are excluded from all animal feed channels."

What does this mean for cattle producers in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic States?

Although a long time in coming, this announcement finally lays to rest the question of the feeding of poultry litter to cattle. Now that procedures are in place to remove the tissues of most risk from all ruminants at slaughter, the disease causing agents would not be present in meat and bone meal sometimes used in poultry feed. Thus spilled feed in poultry litter would not put cattle at risk of contracting BSE. Cattle producers in Virginia can now evaluate, in good conscience, whether the use of poultry litter is an option in their operations. Such factors as feeding facilities, other supplement options, the eventual marketing of their cattle, and whether the aesthetics of feeding litter are acceptable to themselves and the purchasers of their cattle will impact on their decision. The legality of feeding poultry litter is no longer part of the decision.

Poultry litter is a valuable fertilizer and alternative feed. The continued legality of poultry litter feeding and the increased safety of this by-product will have positive impacts on Virginia agriculture. Beef producers will have more options for feed and fertilizer while poultry producers will gain flexibility in their nutrient management plans. Overall, it will ensure continued safety of beef and improvement in water quality.

Allowing the use of certain blood products will allow the continued manufacture and use of high quality milk replacers and colostrum substitutes that are valuable in some production settings. These products are important to survival of weak calves that are initially unable to nurse from their dams. In addition, these specialized milk replacers may improve overall calf health especially on dairy farms.

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