Tuesday, February 17


The BSE-infected brains are hitting the fan now as the news hits our nation's capital that witnesses agree the Mad Cow was a walker. "The new information raises questions about USDA's credibility," said Tom Davis and Henry Waxman, who followed up with "If this cow was not a downer cow, then their sample is too narrow." In what's become a vaudeville-type formula, Steve Cohen makes a blanket denial, then pretends to be clueless about some relevant issue (in this case whether the plant had a particular USDA contract for BSE testing) in the hopes they'll forget about it by next time... which, it seems, the press usually does. Hope they're gonna pay attention this time.

UPDATE 2/18: Day-after coverage has more info, including the apparent first naming of the anonymous "third witness": "The House committee also received an affidavit from livestock hauler Randy Hull Jr., who said the cow had walked onto the trailer when he picked it up at a dairy in Mabton, Yakima County." Washington Post mentions that Hull provided a contract saying that he did not haul downer cows. This seems to contradict Louthan's earlier statement that the other cows in the truck were downers, but we'll see how that shakes out. The Seattle Times also calls into question the USDA's commitment to even doing the paltry "expanded" testing it's already promised: "The goal is to test 40,000 animals this year, double last year's efforts. In January, though, only 1,608 animals were tested nationwide, short of the more than 3,000 a month required to meet the goal."

ALSO: several new details cast Cohen's fiegned cluelessness into extreme doubt (my italics here): "For the past year, Ellestad said, the slaughterhouse had a policy of refusing downer cattle, though it would slaughter animals unable to walk because they'd been injured in transit. He said USDA officials knew that. But last fall, before the mad-cow case was discovered, Ellestad said, the agency asked him to collect samples from slaughtered cattle for mad-cow testing anyway, because other slaughterhouses in the region refused to do so. Ellestad also said that shortly after the cow tested positive, the USDA ordered the slaughterhouse to stop collecting brain samples for mad-cow testing.

AND: UPI's Steve Mitchell follows up with more damning detail: "Ellestad's affidavit also detailed a conversation he had on Jan. 19 with an unnamed Washington State official involved in USDA's BSE surveillance program, who said the cow in question had gone through a milking shed for three or four days after giving birth on Nov. 29, 2003. Ellestad said that means the cow was walking, which disputes USDA's contention the animal was injured during the birthing process. 'There would be no other way for her to go through the milking shed,' Ellestad said." And here's the specifics on the testing deal: "Ellestad said in June of 2003 USDA offered his company $10 for every brain sample from a downer animal it could deliver. Ellestad declined because his policy on downers had gone into effect and he no longer processed those animals. The USDA ultimately changed its offer to omit any reference in its purchase order form requiring the brains originate from downer animals, the affidavit said. Ellestad agreed to participate in the brain sampling program in October of 2003 and provided the committee with a copy of the USDA purchase order, which stated, "For each animal from which a BSE surveillance sample is collected, Vern's will be reimbursed $10." I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it's pretty clear the USDA knew exactly what was going on at Vern's Moses Lake, and these facts suggest they may have been purposely setting up the plant to take the fall for the "lone downer cow from Canada."

STILL MORE: c/o VegSource, We find on Dave Louthan's Web page a little more detail about how the truck could be full of downers if they didn't take downers; unfortunately, it doesn't quite make things crystal clear... "The USDA vet asks the driver why are these cows down? Well Doc they fell down on the way over here. That's fine says Doc. Go ahead. No downers will be killed today. Just some cows who can't get up. The butcher says should we test these downers for BSE? Doc says what downers?" Huh? Is he saying the workers were routinely violating Moses Lake's policy? Or the vet was violating USDA policy? Sometimes colloquial language isn't the best choice. But this much is clear: "You people have got to stop buying beef. You have got to stop feeding that stuff to your kids. If you don't give them any money I guarantee you they will start testing in short order. Vote with your checkbook." Got that right. Also, here's the full Affidavit mentioned above (Large PDF), which looks to have lots of good specifics.

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