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

US to meat packers: Thy shall not test cattle for mad cow disease
By Ben Wasserman
May 31, 2007 - 6:39:20 AM

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The US government said Tuesday it will continue fighting against private testing of cattle for mad cow disease, the Associated Press reports.


A federal judge in March ruled that the United States Department of Agriculture has no authority to suppress private testing of cattle for mad cow disease.


If the government fails to appeal by June 1, 2007, the ruling will take effective.


The case was brought to court by a Kansas meat producer Creekstone Farms Premium Beef after the USDA had repeatedly said the company has no right to testing its cattle for mad cow disease.


Earlier, the company said Japanese importers of US beef required that cattle from which beef is produced should be tested for mad cow disease, a protective measure routinely practiced in Japan.  


In Japan, each animal is subject to a test for mad cow disease before its meat is put on the market.   Japan has reported at least 26 cases of mad cow disease since 2003.   In comparison, the US reported no more than three cases.


Japan had insisted for a long time that the US test each and all cattle for mad cow disease, but later yielded to the pressure from Washington agreeing that beef products from animals under certain age may be allowed into the Japanese market without mad cow testing.


The Japanese concern about the beef safety is not something just imaginary.   The Japanese government has claimed that if Japan followed the US testing protocol, the country would have missed at least six mad cow cases.


U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled March 29, 2007 that the USDA has no authority to restrict private testing of cattle for mad cow disease and such tests must be allowed.  


The judge said "the USDA has authority to regulate the use of diagnostic tests in general, but that it lacks authority to prohibit the private use of BSE test kits, which are not used in the treatment of BSE, but are used on cattle that are already dead to see if they had significant levels of BSE infection," cited in a statement released on March 29 by Creekstone Farms Premium Beef.


The USDA has said that routine testing for mad cow disease could lead consumers to believe that the US beef is unsafe.    And the agency has also said lately cited by news outlets that the private tests would result in a false positive, which would cause a negative impact on consumers' trust on the US beef safety.


But Judge Robertson suggested that USDA’s concerns about the potential impact of a result from private mad cow testing on consumers' opinions were not within USDA's statutory areas of responsibility.


News reports say that larger meat packers feared that if the private tests on mad cow disease are allowed, they will be forced to start the expensive testing, which is something that the large corporations do not want to do.


On April 2, Dr. Tony Milici CEO of GeneThera said in a statement, "We believe that this ruling is a critical first step to finally determine the true extent of Mad Cow Disease in the US. Allowing private companies to test for Mad Cow Disease will also ensure greater transparency in the testing process and better access to information for the consumers."


The beef company said in a statement released early that it has already built a state of the art laboratory to test some or all of the cattle it processes at its Arkansas City, Kansas plant.


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