Texas Mad Cow Update
From Patricia Doyle, PhD

USDA Says BSE Cow Came From Southeast Texas
By Thomas Korosec and Purva Patel
Houston Chronicle
The cow that tested positive for mad cow disease came from Southeast Texas, the owner of a pet-food company that took delivery of the animal said Thursday.
"The USDA told me it's from somewhere in the southeast part of the state," said Benjy Bauer, owner of Waco-based Champion Pet Foods. "That's all they would say, and believe me, I've asked them several times. I want to know, too."
Bauer said that a livestock hauler, whom he declined to identify, brought in the cow, which was dead when it arrived at Champion. The company normally buys "downers," cows that cannot stand up and are therefore barred from human consumption, and animals a few hours dead.
The 5-employee company produces pet food for racing greyhounds from a small tan-and-brown building in an industrial section on the north side of town. Across Industrial Boulevard, dwarfing Champion, sit 2 large chicken-processing plants.
Clint Moran, who works as a Waco livestock hauler, said many of the cows Champion buys are from the area. "For maybe $75, it isn't worth your while to haul a downed cow too far," said Moran, who added he has sold the company downed cows.
Long-distance haulers who deliver healthy cows in the region can be left at the end of the line with a downer that fell ill during the trip, he said. "They'd know to drop it off at Champion and recover a few bucks," he said. The company buys cows "from all over," administrative assistant Melissa Fulton said. She said it has a contract with the USDA to test all downed and dead cows more than 30 months old for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
In a release issued Wednesday, the company said it sent a sample of the brain from the infected cow to a laboratory at Texas A&M University, where a test for BSE was inconclusive.
No part of the animal made it into the company's products, Bauer said.
The Texas Animal Health Commission, the state agency responsible for monitoring diseased livestock, referred all requests for information about the cow to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A "hold order" was issued by the commission to the owner of the cow, to prevent any other cattle from moving from the immediate premises, according to a woman in the agency's public information office, who would only give her first name.
The USDA would not release the location of the ranch the animal came from. Government officials stressed that the cow, likely infected from feed containing cow parts that were banned years after the cow was born, never made it into animal or food supply. Now they're testing the herd and tracing back the feed supply the cow ate.
Chronicle reporter Terri Langford contributed to this report
(Logically, the ranch is within some 45 minutes pick-up drive of Champion, TX. Presumably we will see the implementation of a local surveillance programme for herds that received feed from the same feed company 9 to 15 years ago. - Mod.MHJ)
US Is Years Away From Mad Cow Track-Back System
(Reuters) --The government is years away from fielding a system to track down herdmates of cattle diagnosed with mad cow disease, making the United States "a food safety laggard" in the eyes of a consumer group.
The Bush administration embraced the trace-back system as a vital part of mad cow control but now expects a January 2009 operational date despite pledging to speed up action. Industry sources say questions about privacy and equipment have slowed work.
The government last Friday confirmed the 2nd case of U.S. mad cow disease, and the U.S. Agriculture Department is investigating the herd of the infected beef cow, which some published reports have said was from Texas. [It should be noted that this cow went straight from the farm of origin to the pet food company. - Mod.MHJ]
Within days of reporting the 1st U.S. case of mad cow in late 2003, the Bush administration said it would speed up creation of the trace-back system as part of tougher safeguards against the brain-destroying disease. It is a daunting task, involving a million livestock producers and tens of millions of animals, and has moved slower than expected partly due to objections by producers. The goal of the national animal identification system is to find the home farm and herdmates of ailing cattle, hogs, and poultry within 48 hours of a disease outbreak.
Meanwhile, the largest U.S. cattle group says it will launch a nationwide registry in October 2005, a point when the government would still be mulling the design of its system. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee suggested the government ought to let the private sector take the lead. "The system could be under way in a matter of months, rather than years (and) dictates it is a better course to follow," said Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.
Some industry observers say the latest U.S. mad cow case underscores the urgency of the task. "With this particular cow, we are seeing the strong impact of the gaps in our firewall, which includes the lack of a national ID system," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. With no trace-back system until 2009, says CSPI, "the United States is lagging even farther behind many of our trading partners on food safety issues."
Canada adopted mandatory cattle ID early this decade. CSPI counts Australia, Japan, and Europe with mandatory ID programs. [Though not without problems, these programmes work. - Mod.MHJ]
Confidentiality concerns
Besides the cost of running a livestock identification program, estimated around $100 million a year, and the additional work of reporting every time animals leave the farm or change ownership, some producers worry they will lose control of information about their animals and operations.
Questions about confidentiality are among the reasons that progress is lagging on a government-run trace-back system, said 2 livestock industry sources. Funding has not been large enough, they said, and there are ever-changing ideas over features of the system and the equipment to use.
By contrast, said Jay Truitt of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the livestock industry can assemble a less expensive and more flexible system faster than the government. NCBA is spearheading a private-sector database.
"It's not as complex as everybody wants to make it," said Truitt. "The private sector has much more incentive to meet the marketplace." A privately run database could also be used by producers as a place to store information that could help them win a premium price when they send livestock to market. The data could include feed records, breed lineage, and health care. That "value-added" information could defray the cost of the system.
But just as some producers doubted the government could keep their records confidential, there was skepticism about trusting a private database with the information. "We need to take the profit incentive out of animal ID," said president Dave Frederickson of the 300 000-member National Farmers Union. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson said the government should stay in charge even if it out-sourced some of the work.
(There have been cattle identification programmes in place for decades, starting with ranch/farm branding; government ear tags in disease control programmes; some 30 years ago Australia had a cheap and effective ranch/station identification system based on numbered plastic tail-tags for all animals leaving the station/farm; and dairies have had microchips for some time tied to milk production and individual feeding.
Identifying the cow, pig, or sheep is really the easy part. Catching errors, updating records promptly, data transmission and security, and sheer volume are what bring you to your knees. If the individual owner does not get a benefit or perceive the potential for it in such a programme, "confidentiality" will be trotted around the ring snorting and kicking to distract planners and politicians.
Where the industry has supported such a programme or been persuaded by the threat of withholding of subsidies, their implementation has been rapid and fairly effective. When you get down to details, nightmares are soon uncovered, such as some records being 3 months or longer out of date. However, systems eventually settle down and function well. - Mod.MHJ)
Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" messag e board.
Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa
Go with God and in Good Health



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