Saturday, May 29


There's a bunch of little developments and perspectives in the ongoing Mad-Cow brouhaha that need covered, so I'm gonna dump 'em all here:

  • Even the parent company of the USDA now says they're "disappointed" in it: The National Cattlemen's Beef Association board of directors is telling its members it is "very disappointed" with the agriculture department's handling of mad cow disease.

  • According to this Duluth paper, the USDA (which is supposedly about to vastly expand its BSE testing next week) still has been "unable for nine months now to document those [20,000] tests [in 2003] in response to a Freedom of Information Act request."

  • Fun with transcripts, part I: A Denver Post piece called "When advocates become regulators" profiles Charles Lambert, who spent 15 years at the NCBA before joining the USDA as undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. At a hearing less than one year ago, Lambert said mad cow disease wasn't a threat.
    "Is there a possibility that it could get through?" Rep. Joe Baca, a California Democrat, asked.
    Lambert answered, "No, sir."
    "None at all?" Baca asked.
    "No," Lambert replied.
    "You would bet your life on it - your job on it, right?"
    Lambert answered, "Yes, sir."
    And of course, Lambert, who now says, "I overstated my case," still has a job - the job he bet against Mad Cow showing up in the USA! "Whether it's intentional or not, USDA gives the impression of being a wholly owned subsidiary of America's cattlemen," sez Carol Tucker Foreman in the article. "Their interests
    rather than the public interests predominate in USDA policy."

  • Fun with transcripts, part II: At yesterday's Tele-News Conference with Ann M. Veneman and J.B.Penn, Veneman again said more cows will be found in the US to have BSE: "[W]e anticipate that we may find a few additional cows. And we are prepared for that. Certainly we've discussed this with our trading partners in terms of a very robust system that we are implementing in terms of surveillance in this country." Penn chimed in with " ... And we of course have made them aware that if we have additional BSE in our livestock herds then we'll very possibly find it." Oh, very possibly, huh? That's reassuring. Then comes this question from a reporter:

    Q: There's a claim that I believe is coming from not just RCALF but the Consumer Federation that the USDA's misrepresenting the Harvard Study saying that it does not account for the introduction, the possible introduction of diseased cattle from Canada or other countries and therefore you cannot make any presumptions about the state of the safety of the supply in this country.

    And Veneman says - wait for it - "I don't have any information," right. "Well, I don't have the benefit of having heard the RCALF press conference first of all, so I can't respond to specific allegations they may be making. But let me just say a word about the Harvard Study. ...And through that study it didn't say that we didn't have BSE or we wouldn't have BSE." No, the study didn't, Madame Secretary, you did, which is exactly what the questioner explicitly asked you. As you know, on Feb. 26, 2002 you said the study's conclusion was that "early government protection systems have been largely responsible for keeping BSE out of the United States." Liar.

  • Science corner: Here's an interesting angle. "With funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a group of UW-Madison researchers will investigate what happens if infectious prion proteins - considered the cause of chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease - enter wastewater treatment plants. At most treatment plants, microorganisms decompose biodegradable material in the sewage and, in theory, should also disintegrate infectious proteins, says McMahon. But as she points out, prion proteins generally are very resistant to degradation. "Prion proteins can be viewed as an environmental contaminant," says McMahon, adding that it currently is not known how long these proteins can remain intact and infectious in the environment.

    Well, fortunately, we don't drink wastewater. I mean, sure, sometimes by accident... but other than that, and in a few places here and there, I mean, sometimes wastewater can become tap water, and in that form, rather a lot, really...

  • This is where we might wish the USDA were allowing their workers to actually learn the new food-safety rules without taking a sick day from work. But don't worry, because the USDA may soon be investigating itself again over Mad Cow, this time, over the clear violation of its own policy to allow millions of pounds of Canadian processed beef into the US. Chuck Schumer "has requested the OIG look into who at the USDA made the decision and if the meat industry put pressure on the agency to ignore the Canadian restrictions." CSPI's Caroline Smith DeWaal sums it all up: "They've been ignoring the risks from (mad cow disease) in the human food supply since the 1990s, on the basis that we didn't have (mad cow) in this country, so now these assertions from the agency that there's no possibility that contaminated meat could reach U.S. consumers is really questionable."

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