Tighten rules to safeguard beef
by Trudy Bialic
(April 22, 2004) — Ask the people around you if government safeguards to protect us from mad cow beef are in place now, and chances are they'll say yes. Trouble is, they'd be wrong.
The Bush administration announced some new rules January 26 and promised they'd be in effect "in a few days," but still they aren't imposed.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wa) rightly is demanding the administration implement its "long-promised and long-overdue" rules to stop some high risk practices. As it is, cow blood still is being fed to other cows, sheep, bison, elk, and deer. Rendered cattle still can be fed to chickens. Dead chickens and their litter are then cycling back into cattle feed.
Even under the new rules yet to be imposed, specified risk materials (SRMs) such as brains, and spinal cords from cattle younger than 30 months would enter the human food supply.
Where was the public warning that it would take more than "a few days" for the new rules to have the force of law? How many people ate burgers and T-bone steaks over the past four months assuming the problems were fixed? Why weren't the rules implemented as promised, and why the loopholes?
Consider that USDA Secretary Ann Veneman picked Dale Moore, former chief lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, to be her chief of staff. Veneman chose Alisa Harrison, former director of public relations for the Cattlemen's Association, to be the USDA's spokesperson.
One of her new mad cow committee appointees is William Hueston, once paid by the beef industry to testify against Oprah Winfrey with hopes of convicting her for disparaging beef.
USDA stopped looking for 52 of the 81 cows in the herd that yielded the case of mad cow (BSE) in Mabton, Washington. USDA says the paper trail turned cold and it couldn't trace those 52 cows, so it gave up trying. You may have eaten them.
USDA says it'll test 268,000 cows annually, primarily "downers," but also a sampling of seemingly healthy cows older than 30 months, an age when BSE is apparent. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association insists more extensive testing is too costly and not necessary.
But Europe and Japan have found BSE in younger cattle; one was 23 months, another 21 months. The cost to test all U.S. beef for your safety would be just pennies per pound.
Keep in mind the Mabton cow didn't show symptoms of BSE, according to three witnesses, including the man who killed her. Dave Louthan remembered her because she was a rare, white cow and he says she walked off the delivery truck; she had a birthing injury, but wasn't sick.
"She was a walker, not a downer," says Louthan. "My walking cow was tested by accident. We had just started testing at Vern's Meat. We had taken maybe 100 tests and we found that one that fast." UPI reporter Steve Mitchell says, "As far as I know, the USDA has never explained why it stopped testing cows at Vern's Meat after the one positive case."
In Europe, where one in four cows is tested, hundreds of BSE cases have been found in animals that appear healthy. Japan tests every cow before approval for the food supply.
Creekstone Farms in Kansas requested license to test every cow for health, to get its beef back into Japan and other export destinations. On April 9, USDA spokesperson Alisa Harrison denied the request saying, "Consensus is that 100 percent testing is not justified." The National Cattlemen's Beef Association also resists 100 percent testing for safety.
The secrecy surrounding the recall of contaminated meat from the case at Vern's also raises concern. Federal law makes such recalls only voluntary, and restaurants and grocery stores affected do not have to notify the public.
USDA says the privacy of business is vital to gaining their cooperation. Your safety, however, is better served if you know where contaminated meat was sold and what to do about it.
At minimum, consumers should be allowed to choose whether they want to buy BSE tested beef. A transparent process in traceability, testing, and recalls are necessary to restore safety and trust in U.S. beef.
We also need to create an independent Food Safety Agency, as Britain did after conflicts of interest surfaced in its regulatory system. We need rules to stop herbivores from being force-fed their own kind and other animals.
There will be challenges to any further tightening of the rules. We all need to get on the phone and call our government and scream till we get better action.