- The public may never know whether the Yakima County Holstein
infected with mad-cow disease was truly a "downer" cow, congressional
investigators said yesterday.
- The revelation comes as U.S. Department of Agriculture
officials meet with Japanese counterparts in the next few days to try to
negotiate an end to the Japanese ban on U.S. beef.
- Japan had been the largest importer of U.S. beef before
the infected cow was discovered in December.
- The Japanese government says it wants all imported cattle
tested for mad-cow disease, also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy
- The USDA says 100 percent testing is unnecessary, particularly
since it banned cows unable to walk from entering the food supply.
- The USDA maintains the cow processed at a Moses Lake
slaughterhouse Dec. 9 wasn't ambulatory, and the agency made such "downer"
animals ó thought to be most at risk of having BSE ó the
focus of its response to the crisis. The workers at the facility say the
cow was relatively healthy.
- The mystery of the cow's condition at Vern's Moses Lake
Meats may continue, said Robert White, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis,
R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
- "We've come to the conclusion that we're never going
to know for sure whether this cow was a downer," he said.
- Japan rejects U.S. criticism
- There's plenty at stake in the U.S.-Japan trade discussions,
for Washington state cattle producers and local meat consumers.
- Washington state exported more than $191 million in beef
to Japan last year, according to the state Department of Agriculture, and
growers want to return to the market.
- Japanese restaurants and consumers are scrambling to
replace beef on their menus or increase imports from Australia, said Sato
Tadashi, agricultural attachÈ at the Japanese Embassy in Washington,
- He bristled at suggestions by Agriculture Secretary Ann
Veneman and others that Japanese standards for BSE testing were "unscientific."
- USDA recently said it would test up to 268,000 cattle
that are most at risk for the disease, mainly older animals. Mad-cow disease
most often occurs in cows older than 30 months.
- About 35 million cattle are slaughtered annually, most
of them younger than 30 months.
- The USDA claims that's enough of a statistical dragnet
to catch sick animals.
- Tadashi laughed when asked if that was sufficient testing:
"Nobody can say it is enough."
- Was Yakima find accidental?
- After mad-cow disease was discovered in Japan in 2001,
authorities there began comprehensive testing.
- Ten additional cows were found infected with BSE; five
were outwardly healthy, and five were nonambulatory but had no symptoms
- "If the U.S. introduced the same inspections, maybe
the U.S. would find more," he said, adding: "Health and safety
issues don't have to be sacrificed in the interest of big meat packers.
- "We don't request U.S. consumers to have the same
concerns we do. But we'd like them to understand our concerns."
- Tadashi said the Japanese government and media were very
interested whether the Yakima County cow was visibly sick or whether the
USDA discovered the first case of BSE in the United States by chance.
- "The U.S. government is saying only downer cattle
are vulnerable, but we don't think so," he said.
- 'Downer' definition vague
- On Feb. 17, the House Government Reform Committee sent
a letter to Veneman that included affidavits from three workers at Vern's
Moses Lake Meats who said the BSE-infected cow was not a downer.
- The slaughterhouse owner, Thomas Ellestad, told investigators
he tested the cow to receive a $10 payment as part of the BSE-surveillance
program by the USDA.
- The letter stated: "If the new information is accurate,
USDA's surveillance program may need to be significantly expanded."
- In response, the USDA sent the Government Reform Committee
hundreds of pages of documents pertaining to BSE sampling at Vern's Moses
- After reading the material, the committee determined
there is no consistent definition of a downer cow, said White, the spokesman.
- A USDA veterinarian at the slaughterhouse noted in his
paperwork at the time which cows were lying down, but Ellestad said the
cattle later stood up.
- "It was a relatively healthy cow," White said.
"If it had been brought a day or two earlier or was not sternal (lying
down), does that cow get into the food system?"
- Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, a member of the House
Agriculture Committee, said he did not support comprehensive testing. "Nothing
has shown me that we need to test every animal in the country in order
to achieve a goal of safety."
- While he said he approved of the USDA response so far,
the Agricultural Committee will continue its oversight role.
- A joint House Government Reform and Agriculture Committee
hearing is set for June to examine whether the USDA's testing for BSE is
adequate and to explore lingering questions about what happened that day
at the Moses Lake slaughterhouse, White said.
- "We want to look at everything," he said.
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