The FDA on September 6 published several amendments to the July 2004 interim final rule, "Use of Materials Derived from Cattle in Human Food and Cosmetics," that will allow the use of certain cattle-derived material in human foods and cosmetics.
The rule prohibits the use of cattle-derived materials that can carry the infectious agent for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in human foods, dietary supplements, and in cosmetics. Based on the scientific information provided during the interim final rule's comment period, which demonstrates that a part of the cow's digestive tract called the distal ileum can be consistently and effectively removed from the other sections of the small intestine, it is no longer necessary to designate the entire small intestine as a prohibited cattle material.
As a result, FDA is amending the rule to allow use of the small intestine in human food and cosmetics, provided that the distal ileum has been removed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is publishing today a similar amendment to its interim final rule on BSE.
The amendments also clarify that milk and milk products, hides and hide-derived products, and tallow derivatives are not prohibited for use in human food and cosmetics.
Curious about the distal ileum, I found an FDA document titled Definition of the Beef Distal Ileum
According to another FDA document, studies have shown that the infected prions will show up in the distal ileum and not the rest of the small intestine, and even then so far only in cows that have been intentionally infected. In addition, the ileum is "very distinguishable as is the straight portion of the intestine" so could be easily removed.
In discussing the processing procedures, the document states: "Separation would be monitored by FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) personnel prior to transfer of products to inedible rendering and for processing" and "Verification Options" that include having an FSIS official present at the evisceration table witnessing the separation to having an FSIS official overseeing the process but not being present.
As we've determined in the past, many in this beef processing industry refuse to self-regulate, and so the option of an FSIS agent not being present should not even be considered. The process of removing the ileum from the rest of the small intestine sounds like it requires a degree of profit-shrinking detail that I do not trust this industry to perform consistently.
And if you're asking why this is important and why the small intenstine isn't completely eliminated, this documents states so in its first sentence:
Beef small intenstive is a valuable export commodity to U.S. red meat exporters. Exports of beef small intestine were estimated to be valued at over $9.0 million in 2003 to Japan alone and thus it should be considered a priority to maintain this market while maintaining the integrity of both domestic and international food supplies.