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Federal testing for mad cow disease a failure, law review editor says

The U.S. Agriculture Department's mad cow disease-testing program is wholly inadequate and the agency's refusal to let processors do their own testing further undercuts the safety of American beef, a University of Illinois scholar writes.

Eating meat from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, can cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal human brain-wasting disorder. More than 160 deaths in Britain were attributed to eating BSE-infected beef, and the disease spread to Europe and Asia before the slaughter of cattle and better testing helped curb the outbreak.

The Bush administration's approach to safeguarding the nation's supply of beef has been to deny that there's a problem and to resist comprehensive BSE testing, Gregory L. Berlowitz, an editor at the University of Illinois Law Review, wrote. The net result is that the USDA has placed the welfare and promotional concerns of the beef industry ahead of public welfare.

The first case of BSE in the U.S. was reported in December 2003 at a farm in Washington state. Because the cow was of Canadian origin, USDA officials insisted that the American beef supply was safe. However, after Japan and 52 other countries banned U.S. beef, the USDA started a program to test half of the nation's 450,000 "downer" cows, or cows that could not walk.

The surveillance program found no cases of mad cow disease until June 24, 2005. "This cow was of American origin," Berlowitz wrote, "but even more disturbing, the cow had been tested for BSE in November 2004, and had been retested only on the recommendation of the Office of Inspector General," which is an independent watchdog group within the USDA.

The Bush administration, in the meantime, had restored about one-third of U.S. beef exports through intense lobbying, but Japan, the biggest export market, continued to resist. The administration argued that there was no risk to humans because the second cow had not been
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Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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