While the Food and Drug Administration's proposed ban on the feeding of poultry litter to cattle will mean an added inconvenience for many Alabama cattle producers, it will not present serious problems, according to one expert.

On Jan. 26, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced several new public health measures to strengthen safeguards to protect consumers from the agent thought to cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy, so-called mad cow disease. This includes a prohibition on using poultry litter as a cattle feed.

Despite the hardship this will cause some cattle producers, there is some good news. Only about 5 percent of the poultry litter generated by thousands of poultry houses throughout Alabama is used for cattle feed. Virtually all the rest is disposed of through land application, according to Ted Tyson, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System bio-systems engineer and Auburn University professor of bio-systems engineering.

Only a small percentage of cattle are fed litter, he says.

Tyson also perceives one other silver lining in the dark cloud. He predicts many of the dry stack facilities that cattle producers built years ago to feed litter to livestock could be converted into convenient distribution points for certified waste vendors who provide cattle producers with the litter. All of the litter used for livestock feeding will be used for land application, he predicted.

“The biggest problem we've had in Alabama with poultry litter for the last few years is cost of transportation,” Tyson says. “Lots of folks in the Black Belt could use it. Lots of people in the Tennessee Valley also could use it. The problem has been getting it there.

“The good news is that dry stack facilities out there that no longer can be used for cattle feeding can be used to store litter. In the end, it may help resolve some of the transportation problems encountered in the past,” he says.

While the FDA's ban on poultry litter was sudden, Tyson says it was not unexpected.

“We've really been expecting this ban for years,” he says. “We always knew in the back of our heads that it was coming and that we would have to learn to deal with it.

“Yes, there are a handful of cattle producers who have depended a lot on poultry litter as a feed supplement, and these will be hurt the worst. But, generally speaking, it's something that can be handled and generally will not cause a problem.”

The FDA's decision to ban poultry litter as a feed source stems from the fact that poultry are fed ground feed made from slaughtered cattle. There was concern that some of this uneaten feed would end up in the poultry litter and be fed back to the cattle. The feeding of infected cattle tissue to cattle is the presumed cause of the BSE outbreak in Europe several years ago.

The litter ban is only one of several measures outlined in the FDA's new BSE safeguards. Meat from so-called downer cattle too sick to walk to slaughter also will be banned from canned soups, pizzas, dietary supplements and cosmetics. Also, blood from slaughtered cattle, which research has recently identified as a possible carrier of the BSE agent and that is fed as an alternative protein source to calves in lieu of milk, will be prohibited.