Monday, March 15


I didn't blog any of the stories last week saying the USDA supposedly was going to increase Mad Cow testing, because I wanted to wait and hear the USDA commit to it publicly and explicitly. Well, now it's official - I guess... listen to how it's made public: "U.S. animal health inspectors will test between 200,000 and 260,000 cattle for mad cow disease this year, up from 20,000 last year, a legislative aide told Reuters on Monday. Yes, that's right - it's not an announcement from the front office, but "a legislative aide, who was briefed by U.S. Agriculture Department officials." Well, who was this aide? "The aide, who wished not to be identified, said the one-year testing program would allow inspectors to be 99 percent confident that if there was one case of mad cow disease among 10 million cattle, it could be identified." WTF? Wished not to be identified? See, this is what worried me about this so-called promise. Who's going to stand behind it? We don't even have a damn spokesman's name yet! Something tells me they're not going to actually test 200,000 cattle this year, but I'm putting that as a headline to remind us that that's the claim.

PM UPDATE: The USDA now has a release up about this, and it supplies enough context to show that already the con is on. The statement above from Reuters that "U.S. animal health inspectors will test between 200,000 and 260,000 cattle for mad cow disease this year" is incorrect, since this plan doesn't go into effect until June: "USDA will begin immediately to prepare for the increased testing, with the anticipation that the program will be ready to be fully implemented June 1, 2004. In the meantime, BSE testing will continue at the current rate." PLUS: They're already backing off the concept that they "will test" 200,000 to 280,000 - note that every mention of that is couched as a conditional - "if we test this many, we can be this certain." In the transcript of the USDA press briefing, Bill Thomson of Oster Dow Jones brings this up - "you're not giving us an estimate on how many animals you will test. Is there a possibility that you'll test less than 201,000 animals?" and DeHaven comes out and says: "You guys are doing your best to get me to identify a number, and I'll emphasize again that the goal of this is to test as many of that target population as we can." Then: "It's possible that we would collect somewhere less than 200,000." So this blog entry hasn't even been up all day, and already, the "promise" that's been reported as fact in all major newspapers is revealed to be non-binding. It's the difference between saying "I'm going to do such-and-such" and "I'll do my best!"

AND: More evidence this is a smokescreen for business as usual: Scott Kilman of the WSJ asks, "Under the old program employees of meat packing companies or meat plants often picked that animal. Will that now be the job of a federal employee?" and DeHaven hedges, basically saying that since they're doing the best they can, it doesn't matter who picks the cows to test. He says the answer will be in "the plan on our website," but, lo and behold, it ain't. The plan spells out who physically collects the samples, but not who picks. But come on, folks, give 'im a break - he's doing the best he can!

UPDATE 3/16: No matter how much DeHaven and Veneman tap-dance about this, "we're doing our best" isn't good enough for Japan - which is, of course, the bottom line.

AND: It's apparently also not good enough for US meatpackers.

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