Friday, August 29, 2008

Consumers Union Urges USDA To Allow Private Testing For Mad Cow Disease

This summer, on June 12, the Consumers Union wrote a letter to Congress. The Consumers Union (CU) is an independent, nonprofit organization that receives the bulk of its funding from the sale of the magazine Consumer Reports.

The letter was addressed to the Secretary of Agriculture, USDA, Edward Schafer. Its writing was motivated by months of street protests in South Korea that began when the new president decided to resume US beef imports. The CU maintains that allowing exporters to test their beef for BSE would resolve the difficulty.

Currently, the USDA does not allow a private business to voluntarily test its beef for mad cow disease, also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).

"Although USDA has prohibited private use of the rapid BSE tests so far, it lost on this issue in March 2007 in a court case brought against it by Creekstone Farms."
The USDA continues to block private testing while they appeal that ruling. (Update : The USDA just won their appeal: Court Bars Meatpacker Tests For Mad Cow.)

The USDA's own Deputy Secretary has said:
"We have said it's not our business to interfere with ... private importers in Korea developing their own standards. And if US suppliers want to supply that product by those specifications, that's a private commercial transaction that we don't intend to interfere with and have no opposition to."
- Chuck Connors, USDA Deputy Secretary
Yet, they continue to make an exception for beef testing.

The CU goes on to make a strong argument for BSE testing:
"We strongly disagree with the USDA's assessment that the rapid test kits are "worthless" when used for a food safety purpose because their use could result in a false negative. While we agree the rapid test kits can miss a case of BSE in the very early stages of incubation, such test kits can catch the disease in later stages, before the animals show symptoms. The European Union, using these rapid BSE test kits in government-mandated testing of seemingly healthy cattle approved for slaughter turned up some 1,117 cases of BSE between 2001 and 2006 and prevented meat from these infected animals from reaching European supermarkets."

"We also believe that companies that use the rapid tests should be allowed to label their meat as having been "tested for BSE," and sell it to US consumers who would like this extra level of protection."

"Consumers Union believes that, ideally, the USDA, like Japan, should require testing of every cow over the age of 20 months at slaughter. At this time, the USDA is testing only a tenth of a percent of dead or slaughtered cattle."
Those 1,117 cases were found in the UK after they introduced controls in 1989. In fact, there have been 183,823 cases of BSE discovered in the UK in total, 1,353 cases in Ireland, 900 in France, 875 in Portugal, and hundreds more throughout Europe. 1

Take a guess how many cases of BSE the Unites States says they discovered, in total. 2 Recall that we test a mere one tenth of one percent.

Grass-fed, organically-raised cattle have a lower risk of contracting BSE, but they are not immune. As we saw in a previous post, the infecting agent, a prion, can contaminate pastureland through irrigation and runoff. Prion-infected wildlife can also infect a herd, and its pasture. And right now, no cattle-raiser or meatpacker is allowed to voluntarily test for BSE.

There's little doubt in my mind ... mad cow disease has infected the US beef supply. Somewhere in this big, beautiful coutry, someone is eating contaminated meat. Let's test.
1 Wikipedia: BSE
2 Three

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