Wednesday, February 25


The Washington Post reports that "After doubling its testing for mad cow disease in response to the first case in the United States, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman says the government may expand its survey beyond the 40,000 animals now planned." Great. Obliquely addressing the Mad-Cow-Not-a-Downer issue, Veneman said the new plan "will include some apparently healthy animals," but ominously, "Veneman did not specify how many more animals might be tested."

Hmmm. Wonder how many more? Maybe something like negative 20,000? Because that's what they're on track for with January's numbers. Yes, immediately after the first Mad Cow was found in the US, "testing has plummeted," this Seattle Times piece tells us. Outside of the tests done specifically on herdmates as part of the 2003 investigation, "only 1,608 animals were tested in January, down from 3,064 in December." Eleven more months at that rate will bring us up short of even the 20,000 the USDA claims to have tested in 2003. Does that make sense?

Sure it does, if you're the USDA and don't want to find any more Mad Cows. "USDA requested us to stop taking samples," Tom Ellestad said in the same story, adding that he didn't know why they told him to stop. And I love this: "[USDA] spokesman Jim Rogers said he wasn't familiar with the situation at Vern's." Vern's? Nope, doesn't ring a bell. We have so very many plants we deal with, how can we keep track of them all?

Messing with the data to get the results they want (or lack thereof) seems to be the USDA's M.O., as a top scientist there just blew the whistle (to the New York Times) on the practice of fast-tracking "safety" approval before the science could back it up. The story, headlined Scientist pressured to OK meat, continues: "In particular, the scientist said, approval to resume importing Canadian beef was given in August before a study could be done confirming that it was safe." Subpar for the course.

UPDATE 2/26: However you add up all of the above, Japan ain't buyin' it, which is the bottom line. And it doesn't look so good that not only is the USDA itself resisting increased testing, the agency is willfully blocking small beef packing companies and ranchers from testing their own cattle for Mad Cow.

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