March 19, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

(Albany, NY) – Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy is sponsoring a public hearing on Thursday, March 29th at 10:30 am in the Roosevelt Hearing Room C, 2nd floor of the Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY to examine emerging food related diseases, including Mad Cow Disease. Expected witnesses include: the New York State Veterinarian, Dr. John Huntley from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets; Dr. Dale Morse, Director of the Office of Science and Public Health from the NYS Department of Health; Dr. Michael Hansen, Consumer Policy Institute at Consumers Union; Dr. Robert Gilbert, Associate Dean, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Robert Jones, President of the New York Blood Center; New York Farm Bureau; and other health, agricultural and hunters organizations.

"Do we need a New York law banning the feeding of animal parts to animals used for food? Do we need to change federal food and supplement labeling laws to clearly identify beef products or animal parts in candy, herbal products or cosmetics? Should we ban any European products containing beef products?" asked Ortiz. "So far our meat supply appears to be safe, yet no one from the federal government on down can guarantee that. Our consumers are worried and rightly so, since it may take over 10 years for the disease to appear in humans after eating tainted meat or meat products. I am sponsoring this hearing to better understand this dangerous disease, examine the government food safety and public health protections in place, and develop new regulations or enforcement activities to assure a safe, reliable food supply and restore consumer trust."

In 1996, the first case of a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), a fatal neurological disease, was found in Great Britain. It is believed that vCJD was caused by eating contaminated beef products from cows suffering Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease. Recent press reports about BSE and vCJD have created unease. European-produced foods, food supplements, and cosmetics sold in the U.S. often contain beef products as ingredients. European countries are testing tens of thousands of dead cows for BSE while the U.S. is reportedly testing only 2,000 per year. Questions have been raised about contaminated blood, human organs, and other potential routes of disease transmission. Recently, a similar condition called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been found in deer and elk in the Midwest, although an FDA panel found no cause for concern. Some believe that prevention efforts here should be improved.

"In the face of daily media reports on Mad Cow Disease the public needs reassurance. There is a need for a public review of the government’s role in controlling this dangerous situation," said Ortiz.

While precautionary measures are in place, government agencies need to ensure that we effectively ban dangerous animal parts and track suspicious products that could contaminate animals and eventually sicken humans. Assemblyman Ortiz would like to hear from medical and veterinary university experts, regulatory officials, farmers, and consumer advocates about what New York can and should do about this issue.

"As the new Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy I want all New Yorkers to have a healthy, affordable food supply. I don’t want to discover cases of this deadly disease; I want to prevent it. At the same time I would like to help increase the sales of New York grown and produced foods. One of my goals from these hearings would be to develop a program to certify that New York animals are the safest in the world so that New York farmers can successfully market those meat products to consumers here in New York City and around the country. I have requested $100,000 in the State budget for a pilot project to test cows slaughtered in New York for BSE."

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