April 22, 2004

Do as we say, not as we do.

Imagine this: You own a US company that supplies premium beef to the Japanese market. When mad cow disease turns up among US cattle, your Japanese markets dry up. To deal with the problem, you build a US $500,000 testing facility and propose to test all of your cattle, instead of just some of them as current US rules require. But when you propose this to the US Department of Agriculture, they turn you down flat.

As you've guessed, this isn't a hypothetical case we're proposing here. It's what actually happened recently to Creekstone Farms, a Kansas-based beef producer. In turning down Creekstone's testing plan, the USDA told them the company that 'there is no scientific justification for 100 percent testing because the disease does not appear in younger animals' under the age of 30 months. [Over at Wampum, Dwight Meredith has an excellent, detailed post about Creekstone's problems with the USDA. We recommend it highly.]

But guess what? Using the Freedom of Information Act, UPI reports that the USDA was testing cattle under 30 months of age at the same time it was turning down Creekstone's request. And we're not talking just a few cattle here. We're talking at least 2,051 cattle over the past two years.

In 2002, the agency tested 999 animals under 30 months old, including one as young as 3 months. The bulk, 841, were 24 months old, but 40 were 20 months, 31 were 18 months, 52 were 12 months and there were single cases of cows as young as 9, 8, 6 and 3 months old.

In addition, in 2002, of the approximately 20,000 cows tested, 111 animals have no age listed at all and more than 11,000 are classified only as adults with no specific age given.

The testing of young cows appears to have increased in 2003. USDA only supplied UPI with records through July of last year, which leaves out the final two months of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. During that 10-month period, however, the agency tested 1,052 animals under 30 months old. If this rate was maintained for the final two months of the year, the USDA would have tested about 200 more animals under 30 months in 2003 than it did in 2002.

So because of inadequacies in the USDA records, the actual number of tested cattle under 30 months old could be higher than the 2,051 figure.

Needless to say, the revelation of the USDA's duplicity hasn't been a big hit at Creekstone or at any of the 13 public interest groups that have asked the USDA to reverse its decision:

"That's so hypocritical," said Michael Hansen, senior research associate with Consumers Union, the advocacy group in Yonkers, N.Y. "It makes it difficult for the USDA to argue to Creekstone, 'We only test animals above 30 months,' when USDA itself tests animals as young as 3 months old." [...]

"It's amazing that USDA lives by a double standard," said Larry Bohlen of Friends of the Earth, an environmental advocacy group in Washington.

The USDA "offered a puny compromise to test older cattle for Creekstone farms when the agency itself has been testing some younger cattle for the last 2 years," Bohlen told UPI....

Bohlen was referring to a compromise the agency offered Creekstone to test an unspecified number of its animals older than 30 months at USDA-approved labs. Creekstone rejected the deal because it has invested $500,000 in building a state-of-the-art testing facility and nearly all of its animals are under that age at the time of slaughter.

The USDA, incidentally, is the same agency that insisted that mad cow disease would not show up in the US beef supply, even though Japan and several European countries were having serious problems with the disease among their cattle.

Posted by Magpie at April 22, 2004 04:04 AM | Health/Medicine/Health Care | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |