Welcome to Consumer Reports Advocacy

For 85 years CR has worked for laws and policies that put consumers first. Learn more about CR’s work with policymakers, companies, and consumers to help build a fair and just marketplace at TrustCR.org

CU: USDA Announcement of More Mad Cow Testing Still Inadequate to Protect Public Health

March 16, 2004
Jean Halloran, 914-378-2457
Adam Goldberg, 202-462-6262


New Plan Still Would Test Less Than One Percent Of Slaughtered Cattle For Deadly Disease
(Washington, D.C.) – Consumers Union, the independent, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, said today that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s recently announced plans to expand its mad cow disease testing program are inadequate to ensure that the public is protected from the human form of this deadly brain wasting disease. The group called on USDA to, at a minimum, test all cattle over 20 months of age and to speed up the testing program.
USDA announced on March 15 that beginning in June for a one-and-a-half year period it would test 201,000 to 268,000 animals for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease. This is up from the 40,000 animals USDA had previously said it would test. The plan includes testing mostly “downer” cattle, those unable to walk on their own, because they are considered to be at the highest risk for having BSE.
USDA’s increased testing program comes in response to the finding of a BSE-infected cow in Washington State in December 2003. The cow that was discovered to be BSE-infected, however, was not a downer cow. Under the new program, USDA plans to test only 20,000 healthy-appearing cattle.
“USDA’s new testing plan would still have us testing less than one percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered in this country each year, and less than a tenth of a percent of healthy animals” said Jean Halloran, director of Consumers Union’s Consumer Policy Institute. “France and Germany test more than half of all animals at slaughter and Japan tests every animal. The USDA plan is simply not sufficient to assure the safety of beef.”
In a press briefing yesterday, Ron DeHaven, USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer stated that the purpose of the USDA’s new program is in fact not food safety. He stated, “It’s not a food safety test. It’s a surveillance test.”
Halloran noted, “A research program is not enough. We need a safety program that assures the safety of every hamburger and steak in the supermarket.”
USDA also described this new testing regime as a “one-time” effort.
“This must be an ongoing program, not a one time research project,” Halloran added. “In this era of a global economy, and at a time when we have a widespread epidemic of a similar disease in wild deer and elk in western states and Wisconsin, we will have to be vigilant about mad cow disease for many years, at a minimum.”
USDA announced it was turning to quick tests, which give results in a few hours and cost a tenth of USDA’s current test method, a step Consumers Union has repeatedly recommended.
“USDA should at least require that all cattle over the age of 20 months are tested at slaughter,” Halloran continued. “That’s the best way to ensure that no mad cow infected cattle make it into the food supply.”

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent nonprofit testing, educational and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.