Agriculture Department to reduce mad cow testing by about 90 percent |

Agriculture Department to reduce mad cow testing by about 90 percent

WASHINGTON – The Agriculture Department is scaling back its testing program for mad cow disease to one-tenth of what it has been since the discovery of an infected cow in the U.S.Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said there is little justification for the current level, which rose to about 1,000 tests a day after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in December 2003.The new level will be around 110 tests per day for the disease, known medically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.”It’s time that our surveillance efforts reflect what we now know is a very, very low level of BSE in the United States,” Johanns said.Testing will be scaled back around late August, he said. Johanns said the reduced surveillance remains significantly higher than what is called for by the World Organization for Animal Health.Johanns said he hopes the reduction will not affect the effort to reopen trade with Japan, which has pushed for the current level, or a higher level, of testing. Japan was a huge consumer of U.S. beef before the first American case of mad cow disease.Johanns said Japan should “recognize that what we’ve done here exceeds all the international standards, and the markets should be open to our beef.”Johanns said testing has nothing to do with the safety of U.S. beef for consumers here and abroad. From a food safety standpoint, the real key is the removal at slaughter of cattle parts known to carry mad cow disease, Johanns said.”Those who are trying to convince their consumers that universal testing or 100 percent testing somehow solves the problem really are misleading you,” he said.A consumer advocate said Johanns is the one misleading consumers.”If you do testing of 100 percent of your animals, any ones that test positive never go into the food chain,” said Michael Hansen of Consumers Union. “That’s in part why they do it in Europe, because they’ve seen animals that look perfectly fine, and they catch them just before they go to slaughter.”On an annual basis, the current level of 1,000 tests a day represents about 1 percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered last year in the United States.The United States has had three confirmed cases of mad cow disease: in December 2003, in a Washington state cow imported from Canada; last June, in a Texas-born cow; and in March, in an Alabama cow.In April, Johanns released a department analysis of testing data, saying the prevalence of mad cow disease “is extraordinarily low.” There are probably four to seven undetected cases of the disease in the U.S., according to the analysis.A panel of independent scientists agreed with the department’s analysis, Johanns said.The brain-wasting disorder infected more than 180,000 cows and was blamed for more than 150 human deaths during a European outbreak that peaked in 1993.Humans can get a related disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, by eating meat contaminated with mad cow.—On the Net:Agriculture Department: http://www.usda.govVail Colorado

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