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USDA bungles I.D. of first U.S.-born mad cow.

In late June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that a cow raised in Texas tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. This is the second confirmed case in the U.S., but the first U.S.-bred cow infected with BSE.

Missteps. Most worrisome are the actions of the USDA. It took the agency seven months to confirm BSE after the cow was killed last November at a pet food plant, having been deemed unfit for human consumption. Two samples from the cow were misdiagnosed as negative for BSE. Another sample tested "weak positive," but the agency discounted the results and declared the animal disease free. In a tragedy of errors, that sample was also mislabeled, making the cow difficult to trace.

It wasn't until the USDA's inspector general took matters into her own hands--the legality of which was questioned by some--and sent a sample to the world's most experienced laboratory in England for a more sensitive test that it was confirmed the animal was infected with BSE. Other countries use this test, a Western blot, to confirm initial positive tests, but until now the U.S. has not.

The meat industry says this proves the new surveillance system for BSE works, as the cow did not enter the food system. But it only worked because the inspector general bucked the rules. Ironically, the USDA recently discussed easing restrictions on certain at-risk cows, a move we now trust won't happen.

The Bottom Line. Relax. The likelihood of developing Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (the human form of BSE) is infinitesimally small even if you eat BSE-infected meat. And U.S. beef is still extremely unlikely to harbor BSE. Still, other countries test every animal, test younger animals, place more restrictions on animals allowed in the food supply and employ better tracing mechanisms. EN thinks Americans deserve the same protection.

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Title Annotation:United States, Department of Agriculture speaks about mad cow disease
Publication:Environmental Nutrition
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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