January 15, 2003
Michael Hansen, CU, 914-378-9254
Chris Waldrop, CFA, 202-797-8551
(Washington, D.C) — Consumers Union and a coalition of consumer and food safety groups met with USDA Secretary Ann Veneman Thursday asking for immediate steps to ensure the safety of American beef from mad cow disease, including an extensive testing program, mandatory cattle identification, a ban on high-risk tissue in meat products, and the ability to recall and publicly identify locations of dangerous meat in the food supply.
In addition, the coalition asked Veneman to convene immediately and chair a series of public forums to engage in a dialogue with American consumers about the adequacy of the current and proposed steps to deal with the presence of BSE in the U.S. food supply. The groups noted that all of the proposals made to date were developed after private consultation with the regulated industry, excluding any public participation in the process. Such a process cannot protect either public health or public confidence.
While acknowledging that USDA has taken some positive steps since the Dec. 23 discovery that a “downer” Holstein in Washington state tested BSE-positive and was distributed into the food supply, the coalition said the Secretary has not done enough to monitor and stop the spread of the disease in American cattle. Meat from BSE-infected cattle can transmit the human form of mad cow disease to those humans who eat it, and the disease is always fatal.
“While we support your decision to exclude downer cattle from the human food supply, we are concerned that infected cattle that are asymptomatic could still enter U.S. slaughter plants,” the coalition wrote in a letter to Veneman prior to the meeting. “Thousands of infected cattle in Europe were not downers and showed no outward signs of the disease. Therefore, widespread testing is essential and should include healthy animals over 20 months of age, and heavily target those animals of any age that show signs of CNS diseases or are downers.”
The coalition asked Veneman to immediately:
• Approve “quick tests” for BSE.
• Tag all cattle at birth and track them to slaughter in one unified, national system.
• Strictly enforce the standard that no central nervous system is present in meat products, and ban spinal column or neck bones in Automated Meat Recovery.
• Immediately disclose names and locations of all outlets that received any BSE-positive meat; revoke agreements with states to keep this type of information confidential; seek support of the Bush Administration and Congress to give USDA mandatory recall authority.
• Conduct public forums to explain what the government is doing to monitor and prevent mad cow disease.
To read the letter to Veneman, click here. The coalition includes Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Public Citizen, American Public Health Association, Government Accountability Project, National Consumers League and Safe Tables Our Priority.