Feds 'Hiding Mad Cow Cases'
American Records Not Credible, Former Packing Plant Vet Says
By Duncan Thorne
The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - A former American government packing plant veterinarian says the United States government is hiding cases of mad cow disease.
Dr. Lester Friedlander said Wednesday that colleagues with the United States Department of Agriculture have told him of cases that the USDA has chosen not to announce.
Friedlander, who has been invited to speak to Parliament's agriculture committee next week on proposed changes to Canadian inspection legislation, refused to give details. He said the USDA employees are close to retirement and risk losing their pensions.
He has previously spoken out, however, about a Texas cow that had mad cow symptoms and went untested to a rendering plant after a USDA veterinarian condemned it at a packing plant in San Angelo.
There have been U.S. news reports that just three cows processed by the plant were tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy over two years. The plant, Lone Star Beef, processes older dairy cows considered at higher risk of carrying BSE.
Friedlander said it's not credible that the USDA has found just one BSE case and only in a cow that entered the United States from Alberta rather than being raised in the U.S.
"You've found four cases (including a cow from Alberta discovered in Washington state with the disease) out of 12 million cattle and the United States has found none out of 120 million," Friedlander said in an interview during a speaking visit to Edmonton.
He said production practices in the two countries are similar enough that the USDA should be finding more BSE cases.
Friedlander was in charge of meat inspectors at the largest U.S. culled-cow packing plant, in Pennsylvania, until 1995. He lost his job for, in his words, "doing too good a job."
He has since become a public speaker on food and animal safety issues. He was in Edmonton as a guest of the Edmonton Friends of the North Environmental Society.
The USDA's record looks worse than the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's but Canada needs a new "consumer" agency to oversee packing plant inspections, he added. He said the USDA and CFIA both suffer from having too much influence from politicians eager to please the food industry. His proposed consumer agency would be a government body but would have more safeguards against political influence.
Marc Richard, speaking from Ottawa for the CFIA, said the agency enforces rules set by Parliament and does its job well.
He said it reports to Agriculture Minister Andrew Mitchell and a replacement government agency would have to do the same.
Friedlander also warned against intensive livestock operations, such as cattle feedlots and large hog operations. He said they are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and disease, and authorities have tended to react slowly when there's an outbreak.
Delayed reaction to avian flu last year at a British Columbia poultry operation led to a large and costly outbreak, he said.
John Feddes, an agricultural engineer at the University of Alberta, said the province's confined feeding operations are generally run well, under stringent rules. Large hog operations, Feddes said, are clean.
"Just because they're large doesn't mean they're going to be out of control."
Dr. Gerald Ollis, Alberta Agriculture's chief veterinarian, said confined feeding ops tend to have well-educated people in charge and are big enough that they can have vets visit more often than at smaller farms.
Ollis added that his experience of CFIA inspections is that they are done well.
He was not aware of reports of limited BSE testing at the Texas packing plant, but said the USDA is concentrating its tests at high-throughput operations.
© The Edmonton Journal 2005



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