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California Proposes Testing All Cattle for Mad Cow Disease

Thursday, March 25, 2004
Elisa Odabashian – 415-431-6747 or 415-572-0036 (cell)
Michael McCauley – 415-431-6747

Consumers Union Backs Testing Effort That Surpasses Weak Federal Standard

SACRAMENTO, CA – Consumers Union announced its support for legislation introduced today that would make California the first state in the nation to require all cattle slaughtered or sold to be certified as testing negative for mad cow disease. The group has been critical of the federal government’s limited testing program and has called on the USDA to dramatically increase the number of cattle it tests each year for the deadly brain wasting disease.
“This legislation is needed because the USDA has failed to adequately safeguard consumers from this deadly hazard, and the U.S. Congress has yet to enact legislation to increase testing,” said Elisa Odabashian, Senior Policy Analyst for Consumers Union’s West Coast Regional Office. “By requiring that all cattle must be tested for mad cow disease, consumers in California can be much more confident that the beef they are buying and serving their families is safe to eat.”
The legislation is being proposed in the wake of the recent discovery of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease, in a cow in Washington State. That infected beef was shipped to California and six other western states. The discovery prompted 50 countries to halt the importation of American beef. In response, the USDA announced that it would slightly expand its BSE testing program beginning in June for an 18 month period. During that time, the agency hopes to test 201,000 to 268,000 animals for BSE, which is less than one percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered annually. The plan includes testing mostly “downer” cattle — those unable to walk on their own – even though the BSE-infected cow discovered last December was not a downer cow.
“Even under the expanded USDA testing program, less than one percent of cattle slaughtered each year in this country will be screened for mad cow disease,” said Odabashian. “California’s proposal would help ensure that beef sold and consumed in California is tested for mad cow disease, a safety standard that all Americans should enjoy.”
SB 1425, co-sponsored by Senators Mike Machado and Jackie Speier, requires licensed slaughterers in California to test all cattle carcasses for BSE. These carcasses must be embargoed for sale until the slaughterhouse receives test results certifying that the cow was negative for BSE. The slaughterhouse would be required to report every positive test result to the State Veterinarian and the USDA. In addition, the bill requires all importers of beef into the state for re-sale to be able to certify that the beef is BSE-negative. As the Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Machado is well-positioned to advance the legislation.
“We applaud Senators Machado and Speier for their bold leadership in protecting California’s food supply from mad cow disease,” said Odabashian. “Given the federal government’s reluctance to go beyond its very limited testing program, we urge California lawmakers to enact this bill and set a new standard for the rest of the country.”
Consumers Union has urged the federal government to vastly expand its testing program, fully ban the feeding of any animal remains to cows, and immediately disclose to states and the public, all retail outlets and restaurants from which meat was recalled because it came from an infected cow.