Mad Cow Mess

Discussion
Jun 27, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


The Wall Street Journal reports that an error in diagnosis by government scientists caused a seven-month delay in notifying consumers about the latest case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease found in the U.S.


The cow found to be infected with BSE was discovered in a preliminary test in November. After further testing at a USDA lab in Iowa, the animal was cleared.


The USDA’s Inspector General Phyllis Fong and her staff still had some questions about the animal and had it retested with a method used in Europe. This and an additional test done in Europe concluded the animal was infected.


As a result, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced several changes the government is making in its testing for BSE. “Science is ever evolving…. And as we learn more, we apply the knowledge,” he said.


The new system will require the department to run two additional tests for BSE if the first proves inconclusive. “I want to make sure we continue to give consumers every reason to be confident in the health of our cattle herd,” said Mr. Johanns.


Critics of the U.S. system point out that a small percentage of the nation’s cattle are tested for BSE (approximately two percent of the animals slaughtered) and mistakes, as in the recent case, can happen.


Terry Stokes, CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, pointed out that, while some mistakes were made in this case, “the animal did not enter the human food or animal feed supply.”


“The bottom line for consumers remains the same: Your beef is safe. Scientists, medical professionals and government officials agree that BSE is not a public health risk in the United States. BSE infectivity has not been found in beef, including steaks, roasts and ground beef.”


Moderator’s Comment: What effect, if any, will the
latest case of mad cow have on the perceived safety of the nation’s supply of
beef domestically and abroad? Is the USDA’s revised testing plan for BSE enough
to overcome other nations’ concerns about U.S. beef?

George Anderson – Moderator

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10 Comments on "Mad Cow Mess"


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Ian Percy
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

My first thought was that I bet US cattle people wish they could blame Canada again. The “We’re always right” mentality results in many complications and delays. When we can’t find someone else to blame (for oil, pollution, shortage of water, global warming, imbalance in import/export or whatever) we just don’t know what to do other than create bureaucracy, delays and confusion. Most of the circumstances that waste so much time and money in this country are self-inflicted wounds.

Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

The answer to the second question is easy – no. Japan tests practically all local cattle, and other countries test several times the 1% to 2% the US tests. So until the US commits to a more robust testing program, many countries will be concerned with American cattle.

The first question is only slightly more challenging. The perceived safety of the domestic beef supply won’t be impacted at the consumer level, but suppliers and retailers are taking a much closer look at the issue for fear of being sued when (not if) the first case of BSE is reported. Risk managers at the large processors and leading retailers and foodservice operators are moving to make sure the supply chain back to the pasture is clean and safe by encouraging trading partners to increase the number of animals tested and conducting their own tests. This trend will grow in the coming months and years.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 8 months ago

With so many momentous things being thrown at consumers and citizens these days, unless a human illness occurs, the USDA’s BSE testing program is another float in the Passing Parade. But since I was planning to get a cheeseburger for lunch today, I am MAD and COWed.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 8 months ago
Answer 1 – no, I don’t think many people in the US will be bothered enough by this to change their eating habits. Art’s point about the lack of media coverage about people with the human form of BSE is very relevant. Probably not a lot of people know that the incubation period can be 15 years or more so if today’s animals are unsafe, it will be tomorrow’s adults (i.e. today’s children, yet again) who pay the price. Mentioning that a bit more often might just make a difference (especially in this climate of international concern about school meals) but just talking about diseased animals isn’t going to do it. Answer 2 – no, I don’t think the revised testing plan is going to convince anyone else in the world because we all know about what I just mentioned. Same as we know that no one knows the long term effects of GM ingestion and contamination. Hiding the facts and the potential problems on the basis that they don’t want to frighten people is… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

The mass of the public doesn’t seem to care enough to alter their food buying habits. I see nothing significant to change that, unless a lot of people start getting sick. Right now, in the absence of human illnesses, nobody is taking it too seriously.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 8 months ago

I think it will have more of an impact on exports than it does with domestic consumption of beef. The public, for whatever reason, still has confidence in the safety of the beef supply. However, foreign markets are less likely to turn a blind eye to USDA’/s inadequacies.

The problem is not just with the testing procedures. At the root of it all is the fact that the USDA simply doesn’t have enough inspectors — and never did. The agency has also had a habit of putting inadequately trained inspectors in the field and, quite frankly, I sometimes wonder whether inspectors feel more of an allegiance to USDA or the processor at which they’re based. We need a serious overhaul and amplification of USDA policies and practices. Or else we’re playing Russian roulette with beef and other commodities — not only with the public’s health and safety, but with the economic future of the U.S.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 8 months ago

Couple of additional points not raised: this animal was a “downer” and being processed for rendering, not food, and it was also born before the ban on putting cattle parts in cattle feed, which is thought to be the primary vector for the disease. So it is probably appropriate that this not cause panic.

That said, in addition to the excellent points above about USDA testing, it deserves mention that Johanns criticized the Inspector who ordered the additional testing for doing so without his knowledge. How likely is it we’d have even known about this if our Sec’y of Agriculture had to make the call to get more definitive results? I think perhaps the only reason the increased testing is now becoming policy is because Johanns was forced to by this development.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

To come back on what Jeff said about the cow being born before the rules about feeding cattle to one another, there is definitely an element of shutting the barn door about all the testing policies but that doesn’t mean that they are any less necessary. Hopefully it is only the old cattle that are dying out, one way or t’other, that were dangerous. But there are also laws forbidding the use of certain dyes in foodstuffs (Sudan I and its cousins) because of their potential carcinogenic nature which didn’t stop a whole gang of manufacturers this spring being caught using ingredients containing the dye that “predated the legislation”. Just as it took from Nov until June for the tests on this particular cow, the concepts of timing and urgency really don’t seem to have penetrated either governments or industry one teensy little bit.

Edward Herrera
Guest
Edward Herrera
15 years 8 months ago

No it will not affect most people in their buying decisions. If adverse news affected the masses, Americans would be on a diet, exercise, lose weight, quit smoking and never have unsafe sex. It’s a chance most Americans will take.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
15 years 8 months ago

I have very little confidence in the USDA and even less in their Mad Cow testing program. Everything that they have done is designed to protect the beef industry and very little to protect the consumer. We have quit eating ground beef and products made from questionable beef sources such as hot dogs ever since our Mad Cow issue became well known. I understand that the human form of Mad Cow is increasing in this country, but it is receiving very little media coverage. Probably don’t want to alarm the largest beef consuming nation. I wonder why others don’t seem to be more concerned about it. We have always enjoyed eating beef and still enjoy an occasional good steak, but don’t feel comfortable with ground beef products when we have so little confidence in our government’s handling of this issue.

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