FDA advised to look at mad cow disease risk from gelatin
April 25, 1997
Web posted at: 12:06 a.m. EDT (0406 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal regulators are looking at whether
any risk exists in the use of gelatin from countries where
mad cow disease exists.
Think gelatin, and Jell-O wiggles to mind. But the substance
that aids in congealment crops up in a wide range of
products, including makeup and skin creams, cake mixes and
gummy bears, vitamins, gel caps used for drugs and even
vaccines. Gelatin is derived from the skin and bones of
cattle and other animals.
An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration heard
testimony Wednesday that most of the gelatin produced in the
United States is made from pig skins, which are not
considered a risk. Some comes from cattle hide and bones.
"I think that we are talking about a very, very small risk --
but not zero," said panel chairman Dr. Paul Brown of the
National Institutes of Health.
Nonetheless, the committee voted to recommend that the FDA
take a closer look at gelatin imported from countries where
mad cow disease is known to exist.
There is no proof that gelatin carries BSE
Currently, FDA regulations prohibit the use of brains and
spinal cords of cows from countries where mad cow disease or
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) has been found. Those
organs are considered highly infectious.
But gelatin is exempted from U.S. regulations, because there
is no evidence BSE can be transmitted to humans through the
BSE countries include Britain, France, Switzerland, Portugal,
the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands. Britain
effectively prohibits the use of gelatin from its cows, but
other countries such as France export gelatin to the United
Fifteen cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or CJD, the fatal
human equivalent of BSE, have been reported in Britain. CJD
is a fatal brain disease that resembles mad cow disease and
makes its victims tremble. European health officials say
there may be a link between the two illnesses.
The committee said while there is no evidence that BSE can be
transmitted to humans from gelatin, the FDA should be allowed
to regulate it if necessary.
"We felt as a group that it was very likely that gelatin is a
safe product, and that it will prove to be a safe product
when the evidence is in, but we felt it was best to be
prudent until that evidence is presented to us," Brown said.
The U.S. gelatin industry, which contends gelatin is safe,
said it was disappointed by the committee's vote, and
cautioned any future attempt by the FDA to restrict gelatin
imports could be a problem.
"There simply is not enough gelatin made in the United States
to satisfy the domestic need," said George Mason of the
Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America.
Correspondent Eugenia Halsey contributed to this report.
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