Thursday, June 30, 2005

U.S. Case of Mad Cow Traced to Texas

U.S. Case of Mad Cow Traced to Texas: [USDA Chief Veterinarian} "Clifford said the cow was linked to a Texas herd through DNA testing. He said the herd had been quarantined, but he wouldn't say how many animals it included.

"Given the cow's age, agriculture officials believe it was most likely infected by consuming feed before the 1997 ban forbidding the use of cattle parts in cattle feed. The department and the Food and Drug Administration are trying to trace the history of the herd's feed.

"Officials also are trying to identify herd mates born within one year of the infected cow's birth as well as any offspring born within the past two years, even though 'it is highly unusual to find BSE in more than one animal in a herd or in an affected animal's offspring,' Clifford said."

I wonder if Betsey Blaney, the reporter in this article, quoted Clifford on the last part, because it was such an implausible assertion. On June 25, the N.Y. Times reported, "Normally, an infected animal's whole herd is slaughtered on the assumption that all ate the same feed." Charming.

U.S. policy on mad cow disease, in fact the whole USDA food inspection process, is a study in the routine corruption attendant on the business-government nexus in a Republican Administration. The U.S. is not testing nearly enough cattle to find Mad Cow disease, before it enters the U.S. food supply. And, apparently, the Department has been hoping to sunset the heightened level of testing -- it currently tests about 1 in 100 cattle slaughtered, or somewhat less than 1000 per day. When this particular test came back positive, the Department's reaction was to keep testing until they got a negative result, and then announce that no "mad cow" had been found. Seven months later, the department's Inspector General ordered the re-test by a British laboratory, which confirmed mad cow disease. Interestingly, the British lab's ability to find the disease exposed deficiencies in the similar tests used in the USDA's Iowa lab, which had previously produced a negative test. Tracing the cow back to its original herd was complicated by the Department's unwillingness to put a tracing system in place in the U.S. The cow's breed had been misidentified and parts of four other cows had gotten mixed up with the diseased animal.

Corruption and incompetence, which results in the spread of a brain-wasting disease -- could that contribute to a political storm? Maybe.

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