Humans To Pay The Price for USDA’s Announcement that Cattle Supply is Safe

August 04, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Health News
The announcement came last Thursday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to reduce testing cattle, by a full 90%, for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) also known as Mad Cow Disease, highlights, yet again, the Bush administration’s position to place trade and economic concerns above human safety.

Stating that the nation has “no significant BSE problem” after upgrading BSE (or “mad cow disease”) testing from 40,000 cattle per year in 2003 to 759,000 cattle since June 2004 would appear to be sound reasoning. However, the USDA oversees the slaughter of 35 million cattle each year. If the USDA is now planning on testing less than a fraction of a percentage point or only .1% of those cattle, whose best interests are really being served?

In his report, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns further stated, “You solve the problem by dealing with the problem; you solve the problem by removing specified risk materials. And that's how you protect human health.” The “problem” with this statement is that the Food and Drug Administration, the agency charged with monitoring cattle feed, is doing a poor job.

According to the Government Accountability Office in its 2005 report, ”the managers charged with oversight of feed did not receive periodic reports or have other oversight measures in place to assure the program was correctly implemented”. It is also important to note that the United Kingdom has discovered 44,609 cases of BSE in cattle born after their feed ban was implemented in March of 1991 (a feed ban more stringent than that of the U.S which began in 1997). The GAO report emphasizes that “feed contamination remains difficult to detect due to the lack of reliable tests”.

The importance of ensuring that cattle feed is free from infected BSE material is highlighted by a 2004 GAO report that states, “infectious doses for humans are not known with certainty but experience with cattle and sheep have shown that less than ½ of a gram of infected brain tissue is sufficient to transmit BSE orally.” The FDA’s poor monitoring of cattle feed is insufficient to keep this infected material out of the feed supply.

This lack of proper oversight demonstrates that Secretary Johanns’ confidence in this Administration’s ability to “solve the problem” is misplaced. It is beyond reason to think that the United States is the only country in the world capable of producing cattle free of BSE, especially
when we’re “solving the problem” with ineffective solutions.

Americans have every reason to be concerned by the USDA’s announcement.
Without effective policies in place, humans are at risk of contracting a form of BSE known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) through ingestion of contaminated beef (perhaps as small an amount as ½ of a gram). CJD is 100% fatal. The rapid course of this terrible disease (often a matter of weeks) completely strips away its victim’s humanity.

Instead of declaring that “there is no significant BSE problem in the United States…and there never was,” Secretary Johanns should study the tragic experience of the United Kingdom who chose, in the 1990’s, to ignore its BSE infected cattle, and paid the price in human lives.

Americans should not be used as the canaries in the coal mine. And we should not accept a policy decision to cut BSE testing when human safety so blatantly takes a back seat to financial and trade concerns.

Florence Kranitz
The Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation