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WASHINGTON - A report issued by the U.S. General Accounting Office warns that weaknesses in import controls and lax enforcement of animal feed rules could make it easy for mad cow disease to enter the country, The Associated Press reports.
The report says the Food and Drug Administration failed to take action against feed mills and other firms that violate feed ban rules and has never identified all the businesses that should be inspected. It also calls FDA's database of inspection records "severely flawed."
In addition, investigators claim that potentially infected imports might be entering the country through mail or cargo due to mislabeled shipments and a shortage of inspectors.
"The continuing absence of (mad cow disease) in the United States today cannot be sufficiently ensured by current federal prevention efforts," the report said.
FDA outlawed the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal to cattle, sheep and goats in 1997 and imposed a series of rules on record keeping, labeling and handling of feed, according to the AP.
Agency officials said they have increased their inspections of firms that violate the rules and are replacing the agency's record keeping system this spring.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the GAO didn't take into account actions that the administration was taking to prevent mad cow, including the hiring of additional inspectors. "We will remain steadfast in our efforts to prevent (mad cow) from entering the country."
The department plans to increase its testing from 5,000 to 12,500 cattle a year. USDA also is considering banning the sale of brains and certain types of beef from cattle considered at risk for getting the illness.