Mad Cow Madness
EDITORIAL / Los Angeles Times 15mar2006
THE SATURATED FAT IN hamburgers is more likely to do the American public harm at this point than the tiny probability of getting the human variant of mad cow disease. But the discovery of a third infected cow in the U.S. this week serves as a reminder that this country is not magically protected against the deadly affliction, partly because federal officials aren't following their own recommendations for keeping it out of the food supply.
Japan has again blocked U.S. imports of beef, not because of the discovery in Alabama but because cow parts it had banned — such as brains and spinal cords, the most likely to harbor the disease — still recently found their way in. The lesson: Assurances and half-measures by the federal government aren't enough to safeguard beef supplies.
Creekstone Farms in Kansas has always had a simple answer to pleasing the jittery Asian market — test each and every head of cattle. But instead of applauding the company's safety-minded enterprise, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is actually blocking the beef producer, saying that only the government is authorized to conduct tests for mad cow.
That's typical of the laggardly, incoherent federal response to bovine spongiform encephalopathy. A year ago, the USDA rejected the idea of using the Western blot test for mad cow, saying it was unnecessary. After a wary administrator ordered a test on a cow last spring and it came back positive, the agency suddenly changed its tune.
The Alabama cow is believed to be at least 10 years old, which would mean it was born before the government's 1997 ban on the gruesome and disease-spreading practice of using the remains of cows as an ingredient in cattle feed. Yet the Food and Drug Administration, after announcing in 2003 that it would ban such practices, still allows cattle blood to be fed to calves and bovine remains to be fed to chickens (after which the leftover feed is scooped off the floor with the chicken manure and added — you guessed it — to cattle feed). Not only does that make a mockery of the ban, it goes against the common sense that a grazing herbivore wasn't meant to be a cannibal.
Likewise, nearly three years ago, the Bush administration planned a national tracking system for cattle, similar to what McDonald's Corp. already has in place. Yet the Alabama cow was at its current home for about a year, and officials are scrambling to find out exactly how old it was, where it had lived, the location of cows that might have eaten the same feed and so on.
The government had some good ideas more than two years ago for preventing the spread of mad cow. It's time they got implemented.
source: http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-ed-madcow15mar15,1,5047841,print.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california&ctrack=1&cset=true 15mar2006
U.S. Plans to Reduce Mad Cow Testing
WASHINGTON — Despite the confirmation of a third case of mad cow disease in the U.S., the American government intends to scale back testing for the brain-wasting disorder blamed for the deaths of more than 150 people in Europe.
The U.S. Agriculture Department boosted its surveillance after finding the first case of mad cow disease in the U.S. in 2003.
About 1,000 tests are run daily, up from about 55 daily in 2003.
The testing program detected an infected cow in Alabama last week and further analysis confirmed Monday the animal had mad cow disease.
Still, a reduction in testing has been in the works for months. The department's chief veterinarian, John Clifford, mentioned it when he announced the new case of mad cow disease.
"As we approach the conclusion of our en-hanced surveillance program, let me offer a few thoughts," Clifford said, explaining the U.S. will follow international standards for testing.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns pointed out testing is not a food safety measure. Rather, it's a way to find out the prevalence of the disease.
"Keep in mind the testing was for surveillance," Johanns said.
"It was to get an idea of the condition of the herd."
Higher testing levels were intended to be temporary when they were announced two years ago.
Yet consumer groups argue more animals should be tested, not fewer.
Officials haven't finalized new levels but the department's budget proposal calls for 40,000 tests annually, or about 110 daily.
"This would be a tenth of a percent of all animals slaughtered," Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, said yesterday. "This starts to be so small that in our opinion, it approaches a policy of don't look, don't find."
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin said the confidence of U.S. consumers and foreign customers is at risk if testing is reduced.
source: http://calsun.canoe.ca/News/World/2006/03/15/pf-1488768.html 15mar2006
Consumer Groups Urge US Not to Cut Mad Cow Tests
CHRISTOPHER DOERING / Reuters 14mar2006
WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer groups on Tuesday urged the government to continue its enhanced testing program for mad cow disease, saying any move to end or dramatically curb the program would send the wrong message to Americans and U.S. beef importers.
As the Agriculture Department nears a decision on the enhanced surveillance program it adopted after the first U.S. mad cow case, it is gathering input from scientists, industry officials and others.
An agency official spoke on Monday of "the conclusion" of the program. Advocates of enhanced testing said the administration's proposed 2007 budget includes funds for only a fraction of the cattle tests that have been performed in recent years.
USDA said on Monday an Alabama beef cow was infected with mad cow disease, the third time the ailment has been found in the United States in the past 27 months.
"It seems to be unwise to say you're going to ratchet it...down right after you've had another positive," said Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America. "I don't know how you explain either to American consumers or to people in Japan that we want to sell beef to that you're going to stop looking for something because you found it."
The first case of the disease was found in Washington in 2003. USDA launched an enhanced cattle testing program in June 2004 to look at animals seen at the highest risk for mad cow disease.
The enhanced program, which was to run for 12 to 18 months, remains in place. It has tested more than 650,000 animals — far more than initially planned — and was responsible for finding two of the three cases of the brain-waisting cattle ailment in the United States.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in January he would decide the future of the program in "early 2006."
USDA on Monday offered the first hint of its plans when Agriculture Department Chief Veterinarian John Clifford mentioned "the conclusion" of the program.
"As we talk about the conclusion of our enhanced surveillance program I wanted to reiterate and state that program was to take a snapshot in time to give us an estimate of prevalence," Clifford said during a telephone news conference on the new mad cow case.
"That was quite a striking statement," said Jane Halloran, a policy director for Consumers Union. "The alternative is to put your head in the sand and ignore the problems. The consequences of that are potentially disastrous," she added.
Consumers Union, which urged the government to test all cattle over the age of 20 months at slaughter, said the 2007 fiscal budget provides enough funds to conduct only 40,000 tests, or about 0.1 percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered in the United States each year.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said she opposed any move by USDA to reduce the testing program.
"I intend to fight any funding proposals that may cause a decrease in testing and would inevitably reduce the effectiveness of the system," she said.
So far, global markets have had a muted reaction to the discovery of the third U.S. case of mad cow.
USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said in responses to e-mail questions that the overall reaction has been "very measured" as more countries develop "an increasing understanding worldwide of (the) safety of U.S. beef."
Two major Asian markets said the new U.S. case would not cause any immediate change in plans. South Korea was scheduled to resume U.S. beef purchases in April. Japan and the United States are discussing refinements to U.S. meat inspections.
source: http://today.reuters.com/News/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2006-03-14T235217Z_01_N14374166_RTRUKOC_0_US-MADCOW-USDA-SURVEILLANCE.xml 15mar2006