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Food & Health : Laws & Politics Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM


U.S. fighting to stop private mad cow testing
By Ben Wasserman
May 13, 2008 - 3:37:28 PM

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TUESDAY May 13, 2008 (foodconsumer.org) -- The Bush administration on Friday asked a federal appeals court to stop meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease, USA Today reports.

A low court ruled early that Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef can conduct mad cow disease testing in all animals. The company pursues the testing to meet the demand from foreign markets like Japan, which requires the testing for every domestic cow.

But the United States Department of Agriculture strongly opposed such a testing saying meatpackers have no right to such a testing.  And it also said such a testing would undermine consumers’ confidence in domestic beef safety.

Creekstone Farms sued the government and won the first round in a low court.

In May 2007, Consumer Unions wrote to the USDA asking the agency not to appeal the March 29, 2007 low court ruling.  Regardless, the government appealed to a federal appeals court to block the low court’s ruling that allows the meatpacker to conduct the test.

In the United States, less than 1 % of slaughtered cows are tested for mad cow disease under the USDA guidelines, according to USA Today.  USDA argued that widespread testing does not guarantee food safety and could cause false positive results that scare consumers.

"They want to create false assurances," Justice Department attorney Eric Flesig-Greene  was quoted as telling a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Creekstone attorney Russell Frye argued that the USDA's regulations covering the treatment of domestic animals contain no prohibition against any meatpacker's testing for mad cow disease because the test is performed only after a cow is slaughtered.

In addition, Frye said that the agency has no right to prevent individual companies from using the test to reassure their customers. "This is the government telling the consumers, 'You're not entitled to this information,"' Frye was quoted by USA Today as saying.

Chief Judge David Sentelle seemed to agree with the meatpacker's argument that the mad cow testing would not interfere with the agency's regulations governing the treatment of animals.  Sentelle was quoted as saying "All they want to do is create information."

Larger meatpackers opposed the mad cow testing by Creekstone Farms arguing that Creekstone's testing would force them to conduct their own tests, which would lead to an increase in the beef price by a few cents per pound.  

But the increased price may not be an issue with the consumers.  

In the letter addressed to Secretary of Agriculture, Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a scientist with Consumers Union wrote "According to a Consumers Union national survey carried out in January 2004, some 71% of the public supported testing of cattle for BSE and, of those, some 95% were willing to spend 10 cents more per pound of meat to buy tested meat."

No long ago this year, at least one downer cow was reportedly processed into beef the government used for school luncheon program, triggering nationwide massive recall of beef.  Downers are known to have high odds of carrying mad cow disease.

Eating beef contaminated with mad cow disease can cause human version of mad cow disease. There is no cure for the disease.  However, there is no solid statistics to show how many people in the United States actually suffer and die each year from the disease because this disease can only be diagnosed by postmortem biopsy, which is not always conducted, and even if there is any case, doctors and hospitals are not required to report it to the government.





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