- WASHINGTON (UPI) -- The U.S.
Department of Agriculture plans to notify industry officials of positive
mad cow test results at least one hour before informing the public, according
to a meat industry newsletter obtained by United Press International.
- The revelation comes as government officials are being
investigated for possibly leaking information about the first U.S. case
of mad cow in December to commodity traders prior to telling the public.
- The USDA launched an expanded surveillance program June
1 in response to the December case that involves initially screening cows
with a rapid test. Those tests can yield false positives, so they are being
categorized as inconclusive until confirmed by additional tests.
- According to the June 7 issue of Lean Trimmings, a newsletter
put out by the National Meat Association, "If a batch contains inconclusive
results, plant personnel will be notified by 2:30 p.m. EST the day the
results become available, and that information will also be posted to (USDA's)
Web site by 3:30 p.m. EST."
- A statement on NMA's Web site says, "Generic information
concerning the inconclusive result will be publicly released after the
market closes for the day, after the plant and other key personnel or associations
have been notified, with at least an hour between the two notifications."
- The statement goes on to say USDA officials told industry
representatives in a private meeting, "No establishment information
will be publicly released, including the city or town of the slaughtering
- Consumer groups, which have been requesting a meeting
on mad cow issues with Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman for seven months,
objected to the USDA's plan to notify industry first.
- "If they're not going to notify the public of the
plant's identity, then there's no reason the plant needs to be notified
beforehand," Felicia Nestor, senior policy analyst for the Government
Accountability Project in Washington, D.C., told UPI.
- "Why does the plant even need to know? I don't get
that at all," Nestor said. "That would seem to facilitate people
in the plant being able to take advantage of markets," she added.
The plant personnel could in turn notify other industry representatives,
including the various trade organizations, she said.
- The USDA and the National Meat Association did not respond
to requests from UPI to comment on this article.
- Chandler Keys, vice president of government affairs for
the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a trade group in Washington,
D.C., told UPI he was not aware the agency's plan was to notify plant personnel
first, but he did not see any reason for concern about insider trading.
- "That'd be against the law," Keys said, noting
companies often have access to information they could use for insider trading,
but do not act on it.
- "It's a courtesy, if anything," Keys said.
"An hour beforehand ... it's almost simultaneous."
- The notifications of positive or inconclusive mad cow
test results are apparently slated to take place after the close of the
U.S. cattle futures market, but Nestor said that may not resolve the problem
- "The American market is not the only market in the
world," she said. Other markets, such as those in Europe or Japan,
could still be utilized by those with inside information.
- In January, various consumer groups, including GAP, Public
Citizen and the Consumer Federation of America, requested the USDA hold
a public hearing on the mad cow issue. The groups reiterated their appeal
just last month. So far, their requests have gone unanswered.
- "It's totally outrageous," Nestor said. "The
USDA has had closed-door meetings with industry from the very beginning
(when the U.S. mad cow was detected in December) and throughout these (six)
months since, and not a single one for the public," she said.
- "Basically, it says the only stakeholder group the
USDA cares about is the industry," she said.
- A statement on USDA's Web site says so far it has not
received any positive tests or inconclusive results in its expanded surveillance
program. However, Veneman and other USDA officials have said publicly in
recent months they would not be surprised to find additional infected cows
as more animals are tested.
- Since late December, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission
has been investigating cattle futures trading on the Chicago Mercantile
Exchange for "the possibility that certain commodity traders had advance
knowledge ... that 'mad cow' disease had been found in a cattle herd in
the northwestern U.S.," the agency said in a Jan. 28 statement.
- The infected cow was initially tested Dec. 9, 2003. The
USDA did not confirm and report the results to the public until Dec. 23,
two weeks later.
- "The investigation seeks to determine whether news
of the announcement was leaked in advance from government or other sources,"
the CFTC statement said.
- Karen Batra, spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's
Beef Association in Washington, told UPI her organization first heard a
rumor of the December mad cow case shortly before noon Dec. 23. They did
not receive confirmation until approximately 3:30 p.m., Batra said. The
USDA did not inform the public until two hours later, at 5:30 p.m.
- CFTC chairman James Newsome told a Senate Agriculture
subcommittee meeting in May the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington was
involved in the mad cow investigation and he expected it to be completed
- - Steve Mitchell is UPI's Medical Correspondent
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