Testing for BSE

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BSE or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy has been in the news more and more. Otherwise known as Mad Cow disease, it's origin is not fully understood although there are some good theories and it seems closely related to the human new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The evidence is that it is caused by feeding cattle animal products that are contaminated or infected with BSE (the animal protein causes the cattle to gain weight rapidly -- cattle are normally vegetarians) and if this is true, a human eating the infected cattle will possibly contract nvCF disease. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a testing program in place and operating but they do not test every cow destined for human consumption, they take a statistical sample.

One Premium meat producer wants to test each cow at their own expense but the USDA has said no. From the Creekstone Farms website:

Creekstone Farms to Challenge USDA's Decision to Decline Private BSE Testing
Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, LLC, the privately held producer and processor of Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef, said today they will aggressively challenge USDA's decision yesterday not to allow them to voluntarily test all of the cattle they process for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) commonly known as mad cow disease. Creekstone Farms submitted to USDA their request to conduct private testing at their Arkansas City, Kansas processing plant on February 19, 2004. Although Creekstone Farms officials have held ongoing meetings with the USDA since that time, yesterday's announcement came as a surprise to the company.

"We are extremely disappointed but nonetheless relieved to finally have a response from the USDA," said John Stewart, CEO of Creekstone Farms. "We now know where USDA stands but are surprised it took them six weeks to respond with a 'no' to our request."

From The New Farm website:

Beef producer's bid to test all its cattle for BSE denied
Creekstone Farms Premium Beef LLC, a privately owned producer and processor, is threatening legal action against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the agency's decision last week not to allow it to voluntarily test all of its cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), known as mad cow disease.

And:

But the USDA refused the license request from Creekstone Farms. "We are looking at what the consensus of international experts is when it comes to testing, and that consensus is that 100 percent testing is not justified," Agriculture Department spokeswoman Alisa Harrison said. "That's why we feel at this time we cannot grant Creekstone's requested timeline for a decision."

And:

"We are challenging USDA's authority to control the sales of BSE diagnostic tests in the United States and your decision to prohibit companies like Creekstone Farms from conducting 100% testing of young animals that would meet our customers' needs and requirements," wrote the beef company officials.

They said the USDA decision is costing Creekstone Farms a minimum of $200,000 a day in lost revenues, and put the agency on notice that the company will "continue to track this loss on a daily basis to determine damages."

And part of the problem starts coming clear:

Using the Rapid Test method for BSE, Creekstone Farms would to test more cattle than the USDA, at a lower cost, Stewart and Fielding wrote in their letter to USDA officials. "If our plan were to be implemented, we would test over 300,000 head of cattle over the course of a year, versus the USDA proposed cattle population of approximately 220,000 head."

"As well, the USDA is planning on spending a minimum of $72 million of taxpayer money to conduct these tests. The Creekstone Farms' plan will cost less than $6 million using the identical test kit, and our customers are willing to pay for the cost of the testing," the company officials wrote.

And clearer still -- starting to see red:

The company asks how the USDA can certify domestic and international sales/production of natural or organic beef products without testing all animals.

How can the USDA justify spending $72,000,000 in taxpayer funds to test 221,000 head of cattle in 12 months for $325/head, when a private company will use the same test method as APHIS to test 300,000 head for $5.4 million paid for by consumers in 12 months, at a cost of $18/head, Creekstone Farms asks.

Complete preparation and training to conduct the BSE testing took Creekstone Farms one month, the company wrote, asking why it would take APHIS five months to fully implement their program.

Another example of our tax dollars at work. It took the USDA five months to implement their testing program, Creekstone Farms did it in one month. The USDA spends $325 per cow for testing while Creekstone Farms spends $18 per cow using the same test. Arrrggghhhh...

1 Comment

It's all in the politics. As long as the USDA continues to stall on testing, and tests a very small fraction of the beef going to slaughter - they can legitimately say they've only found BSE in 3 cows so there's no problem. As soon as 100% testing is started I'm willing to bet more BSE will show up. Then people start asking very difficult and legitimate questions.

Remember that beef calf we talked about getting? I'm beginning to think that's not such a bad idea...

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on March 30, 2006 3:55 PM.

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