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In the most aggressive move yet taken by any American company against the threat of mad cow, McDonald's — one of the largest beef buyers in the world — will demand proof that the cattle used in its hamburgers were fed under rules to prevent mad cow disease.

McDonald's stresses this is just a precaution, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

"There was no specific risk or threat," a spokesman said. "but there was a compliance issue," a reference to worries that U.S. cattle aren't being raised in accordance with regulations meat to keep mad cow disease out of the United States.

Because mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), is thought to be spread in cattle feed made from sick cows, the U.S. has banned the practice of feeding any animal material to U.S. cattle.

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But compliance problems surfaced in January, when U.S. officials found 700 U.S. feed makers were not even labeling prohibited cattle feed. A labeling mistake by feed maker Purina led the government to isolate one cattle herd near Gonzalez, Texas.

"We have had five recalls of animal feeds because of improper labeling so far, where we have gone out and taken it off the market," said Dr. Steven Sundloff of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The fast-food giant has given packers until April 1 to document that the cattle they buy have been fed in accordance with the federal rules.


Click here to learn more about mad cow.

Europe's cattle industry suffered severe losses after consumers began shunning beef because of fears that humans can contract a similar brain disease from eating meat infected with BSE.

Mad cow disease is linked to a new variation of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has killed some 80 Eropeans since the mid-1990s, mostly in Britain.

"Here in the U.S., it's always been BSE-free. We want to keep it that way," McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker said Tuesday.

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Beef processors will be audited by McDonald's to ensure they have the required records, Riker said.

The U.S. feed industry admits to having difficulties with labeling but insists there is no mad cow problem.

"They may have labeled it wrong," said David Bossman of the American Feed Industry Association. "That does not make in any way the feed supply unsafe … nor does it make the beef supply unsafe."

The cattle and feed industries say they welcome the McDonald's move because it will focus ranchers and farmers on the mad cow threat from infected cattle feed.

They believe most U.S. ranchers fear losing McDonald's business more than they fear the government.

McDonald's action has had a ripple effect throughout the industry, officials say. Major meatpackers, including IBP Inc., Excel and ConAgra, have told their cattle suppliers they must document their compliance with the feed rules.

"If McDonald's is requiring something of their suppliers, it has a pretty profound effect," said Janet Riley, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute, which represents packers.

The Livestock Marketing Association has advised its members to begin requiring documentation from cattle producers or risk being unable to sell to slaughterhouses.

McDonald's, which has 28,000 restaurants worldwide, has previousl used its marketing muscle to impose animal-welfare standards on egg producers and slaughterhouses.

"Because we have the world's biggest shopping cart, we can use that leadership to provide more focus and order throughout the beef system," Riker said. "Things are getting better organized, better aligned, better segregated at the feed lot level. This has created a whole chain reaction throughout the beef system."

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