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Cut in USDA Mad Cow testing a serious public health risk

Consumers Union says USDA cut in Mad Cow testing puts public health at risk

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, today severely criticized the US Department of Agriculture for reducing its mad cow surveillance program.
“The USDA is playing Russian Roulette with public health,” stated Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a staff scientist at Consumers Union. “We must have continuing, increased monitoring of US cattle for mad cow disease, not just a two-year “snapshot”. Just because we only found three cases so far, doesn’t mean US cattle are immune. Yet today USDA has reduced testing to a miniscule level—40,000 cows a year, or a tenth of one percent of all cows slaughtered.”
The USDA claims that its testing program, which has sampled 759,000 cows in the last two years and found two additional cases of mad cow disease in addition to the one found previously, shows that the incidence of the brain-wasting disease in US cattle is less than 1 in a million. Consumers Union counters that USDA primarily tested dead animals, rather than higher risk cattle such as animals exhibiting symptoms of nervous system disease. “We don’t agree with USDA’s modeling of risk, and USDA has refused to disclose many key details of its test program.” Hansen states, “Therefore, it is impossible to draw definitive conclusions from USDA’s test program to date.”
Consumers Union points out that the US now has no restrictions on imports of beef or live cattle under 30 months of age from Canada, where the seventh case of mad cow disease in six years was recently confirmed. Hansen comments, “With such a small testing program in the US, if an infected Canadian cow came across the border, USDA would almost certainly fail to catch it. Steak from the cow could end up on some consumer’s dinner plate, while its remains could be converted to feed for pigs and chickens, potentially spreading the disease.”
Contact: Michael Hansen, 914-378-2452 or Jean Halloran, 914-378-2457