More Deadly Lies - Did USDA
Even Test 20,000 Cattle?
USDA Refuses To Release Mad Cow Test Records
By Steve Mitchell
United Press International
WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Although the United States Department of Agriculture insisted the U.S. beef supply is safe Tuesday after announcing the first documented case of mad cow disease in the United States, the agency for six months repeatedly refused to release its tests for mad cow to United Press International.
The USDA claims to have tested approximately 20,000 cows for the disease in 2002 and 2003, but has been unable to provide any documentation in support of this to UPI, which first requested the information in July.
In addition, former USDA veterinarians tell UPI they have long suspected the disease was in U.S herds and there are probably additional infected animals.
USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced late Tuesday during a hastily scheduled news briefing that a cow slaughtered Dec. 9 on a farm in Mabton, Wash., had tested positive for mad cow disease. The farm has been quarantined but the meat from the animal may have already passed into the human food supply.
The slaughtered meat was sent for processing to Midway Meats in Washington and the USDA is currently trying to trace if the meat went for human consumption, Veneman said.
The fear is mad cow disease can infect humans and cause a brain-wasting condition known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that is always fatal. More than 100 people contracted this disease in the United Kingdom after a widespread outbreak of mad cow disease in that country in the 1980s.
An outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States has the potential to dwarf the situation in the United Kingdom because the American beef industry is far larger and U.S. beef is exported to countries all over the globe.
"We're talking about billions of people" around the world who potentially have been exposed to U.S. beef, Lester Friedlander, a former USDA veterinarian who has been insisting mad cow is present in American herds for years, told UPI.
The USDA insisted the case is probably isolated and the US beef supply is safe. "I plan to serve beef for my Christmas dinner," Veneman said, "and we remain confident in the safety of our food supply."
Responded Friedlander: "She might as well kiss her (behind) goodbye, then."
Veneman went on to say she had confidence in the USDA surveillance system for detecting mad cow and protecting the public, noting the agency has tested more than 20,000 cattle for the disease this year.
This represents only a small percentage of the millions of cows in the U.S. herd, however, and experts say current procedures are unlikely to detect mad cow.
The Washington cow was tested because it was a so-called downer cow -- a cow unable to stand on its own -- which is a sign of mad cow disease. However, the United States sees approximately 200,000 of these per year or about 10 times as many animals are tested for the disease.
USDA officials told UPI as recently as Dec. 17 the agency still is searching for documentation of its mad cow testing results from 2002 and 2003.
UPI initially requested the documents on July 10, and the agency sent a response letter dated July 24, saying it had launched a search for any documents pertaining to mad cow tests from 2002 and 2003.
"If any documents exist, they will be forwarded," USDA official Michael Marquis wrote in the letter.
Despite this and a 30-day limit under the Freedom of Information Act on responding to such a request, the USDA never sent any corresponding documents. The agency's FOI office also did not return several calls from UPI placed over a series of months.
Finally, UPI threatened legal action in early December if the agency did not respond.
In a Dec. 17 letter to UPI from USDA Freedom of Information Act Office Andrea E. Fowler, the agency wrote: "Your request has been forwarded to the (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) for processing and to search for the record responsive to your earlier request."
To date, the USDA has not said if any records exist or if they will be sent to UPI.
"It's always concerned me that they haven't used the same rapid testing technique that's used in Europe," where mad cow has been detected in several additional countries outside of the United Kingdom, Michael Schwochert, a retired USDA veterinarian in Ft. Morgan, Colo., told UPI.
"It was almost like they didn't want to find mad cow disease," Schwochert said.
He noted he had been informed that approximately six months ago a cow displaying symptoms suggestive of mad cow disease showed up at the X-cel slaughtering plant in Ft. Morgan.
Once cows are unloaded off the truck they are required to be inspected by USDA veterinarians. However, the cow was spotted by plant employees before USDA officials saw it and "it went back out on a special truck and they called the guys in the office and said don't say anything about this," Schwochert said.
Veneman said the Washington case "does not pose any kind of significant risk to the human food chain."
Friedlander called that assessment, aptly enough, "B.S." Referring to the USDA's failure to provide their testing documentation to UPI, he said, "The government doesn't have records to substantiate their testing so how do they know whether this is an isolated case." The agency also cannot provide any assurance that this animal did not get processed for human consumption, he said.
Schwochert agreed with that, saying the USDA's sparse testing means they cannot say with any confidence whether there are additional cases or not.
Both Schwochert and Friedlander said the report of a mad cow case would devastate the U.S. beef industry.
"It scares the hell out of me what it's going to do to the cattle industry," Schwochert said. "This could be catastrophic."
Only hours after Veneman's announcement, Japan -- the biggest importer of U.S. beef -- and South Korea both banned the importation of American meat.
The American Meat Institute, a trade group in Arlington, Va., representing the U.S. meat and poultry industry, maintained the U.S. beef supply is safe for human consumption.
"First and foremost, the U.S. beef supply is safe," AMI spokesman Dan Murphy told UPI. "We think its safe for U.S. consumers to eat."
This is because infectious prions, thought to be the causative agent of mad cow and vCJD, are not found in muscle tissue that comprises hamburgers and steaks, he said. They are generally located in brain and spinal cord tissue. (ED NOTE: See also 'Mad Cow' Proteins Form In Muscle As Well As Brain <>
However, recent studies have suggested prions may occur, albeit in smaller numbers, in muscle tissue, and bits of brain and spinal cord tissue have been detected in hamburger meat.
Other protective measures have also been put in place that should protect consumers, Murphy said.
Mad cow disease is thought to be spread by feeding infected cow tissue back to cattle -- a practice that was common in the United Kingdom and is thought to have contributed to their widespread outbreak. The practice has been banned in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration since 1997, which should help ensure this is "an isolated case," Murphy said.
A report from the General Accounting Office issued just last year, however, found some ranchers in the United States still violate the feed ban and do feed cow tissue to cattle.
The GAO concluded: "While (mad cow disease) has not been found in the United States, federal actions do not sufficiently ensure that all (mad cow)-infected animals or products are kept out or that if (mad cow) were found, it would be detected promptly and not spread to other cattle through animal feed or enter the human food supply."
Mad Cow Set to Hit Restaurant Stocks
Analysts expected a short-term dip in restaurant stocks that are heavily dependent on beef, such as McDonald's and Wendy's, and smaller steakhouse chains like Outback Steakhouse Inc and Rare Hospitality International Inc. , operator of LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants.
Eight Nations Block U.S. Beef Imports
Dec 24, 7:36 AM (ET)
TOKYO (AP) - The mad cow disease scare in the United States spread quickly to Asia and Europe, where eight nations including top U.S. market Japan blocked the import of American beef products after a cow in Washington state tested positive for the illness.
Japan, the world's top importer of U.S. beef, imposed an indefinite ban and planned to recall certain meat products already on the market, while South Korea halted customs inspections of U.S. beef and suspended sales for meat already on supermarket shelves.
Hong Kong, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia followed suit. Later Wednesday, Russia also issued a temporary ban, Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said.
In Brussels, the European Union, which already bans much U.S. beef because of fears about growth hormones, said it would not take any additional measures against U.S. beef.
Antonia Mochan, a spokeswoman at the EU's executive Commission, said the United States was already classified as an "at-risk country" as part of the sweeping EU measures adopted following Britain's mad cow crisis, which began in the late 1980s and spread across western Europe. Under those restrictions, imports of specific risk products, such as brains, are banned.
The moves came after the U.S. government announced that a Holstein cow on a Washington state farm tested positive for mad cow disease, marking the disease's first suspected appearance in the United States.
British experts said the United States must seek out the help of countries that have experience dealing with the disease and must take swift action to restore consumer confidence in its beef stocks.
"The key here is to restore confidence quickly, not to allow it to drag out," Sean Ricard, former chief economist of Britain's National Farmers' Union, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "What I hope America will do is take rapid action, perhaps slaughter the herd that animal came from."
Ricard predicted a short-term slide in the price of beef in the United States.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the risk to human health in this U.S. case was "extremely low." Parts of the cow that would be infected - the brain, the spinal cord and the lower part of the small intestine - were removed before the animal went to a meat processing plant.
The immediate reaction also reflected the widespread consumption of U.S. beef in Asia, where American eating habits have gained tremendous popularity in recent decades, as evidenced by the proliferation of fast-food outlets.
Australia - a major beef exporter that stands to gain economically from a bans on U.S. imports - placed a temporary hold on American beef, Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said Wednesday.
In Canada, where a single case of the disease was found in May, federal officials said late Tuesday that imports wouldn't be banned unless the suspected case was confirmed.
Japan's Agriculture Ministry said its ban applied to beef and beef products and took effect immediately.
"We must ban beef imports from the United States for the time being," said Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi. "We must recall products that include so-called 'dangerous parts,'" such as brains and spinal cords.
Japan is the largest overseas market in value terms for U.S. beef. Exports totaled $842 million in 2002, accounting for 32 percent of the market for U.S. exports, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. South Korea is No. 2 in value, with $610 million. Mexico, the top importer of U.S. beef in volume terms, was third in value in 2002, a federation official in Seoul said.
Japanese authorities have been especially leery about mad cow disease since the nation's herds suffered the first recorded outbreak of the disease in Asia in September 2001, causing meat consumption to plunge. Consumption, however, has since rebounded.
While fresh imports to Japan have been banned, there was no widespread rush to pull American beef from supermarket shelves. A spokesman at Ito-Yokado, Japan's largest supermarket chain, said the retailer had faith in the safety of the beef already on its shelves and would sell its stocks.
The Aeon chain, however, said it was going to pull American beef from its shelves.
Ito-Yokado imports its U.S. beef from herds in the midwest, far from where the infected Holstein was discovered in Washington state, the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The United States supplied 46.5 percent of Japan's beef imports in 2002, or 226,524 tons, second only to Australia. There was speculation in Japan that the ban would cause major bottlenecks for restaurants as they scrambled to find other suppliers.
The mad cow scare already took a toll on restaurant stocks in Japan. Shares of Yoshinoya, a "gyu-don" meat and rice restaurant chain where 99 percent of the beef is American, plunged 9.4 percent, and stocks of McDonald's Japan, which said it exclusively serves Australian beef, lost 3.1 percent.
In Hong Kong, the territory's government said in a statement that the temporary ban is a precaution, saying "there is no evidence to suggest that U.S. beef on the market is unsafe."
In Singapore, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said that if the mad cow disease case is confirmed in the United States, the country will not import American beef again until Washington certifies that it has been free of the disease for six years.
Taiwan said U.S. beef could face a seven-year export ban.
Mad cow disease, known also as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, eats holes in the brains of cattle. It sprang up in Britain in 1986 and spread through countries in Europe and Asia, prompting massive destruction of herds and decimating the European beef industry.
People can contract a form of mad cow disease if they eat infected beef or nerve tissue, and possibly through blood transfusions. The human form of mad cow disease so far has killed 143 people in Britain and 10 elsewhere, none in the United States.


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