Saturday, December 27, 2003

Administration Brushed Aside Mad Cow Threat Warnings

Expert Warned That Mad Cow Was Imminent

The [Agriculture] department had been willfully blind to the threat, he said. The only reason mad cow disease had not been found here, he said, is that the department's animal inspection agency was testing too few animals. Once more cows are tested, he added, "we'll be able to understand the magnitude of our problem."

This nation should immediately start testing every cow that shows signs of illness and eventually every single cow upon slaughter, he said he told Ms. Veneman. Japan has such a program and is finding the disease in young asymptomatic animals.

Cattle with sporadic disease are probably entering the food chain in the United States in small numbers, Dr. Prusiner and other experts say.

Brain tissue from the newly discovered dairy cow in Washington is now being tested in Britain to see if it matches prion strains that caused the mad cow epidemic there, or if it is a homegrown American sporadic strain, Dr. Prusiner said.

Newer tests, by a variety of companies, are more sensitive, cheaper and faster. Dr. Prusiner said that his test could even detect extremely small amounts of infectious prion in very young animals with no symptoms. Sold by InPro Biotechnology in South San Francisco, a single testing operation could process 8,000 samples in 24 hours, he said.

British health officials will start using the test in February, Dr. Prusiner said. If adopted in this country, it would raise the price of a pound of meat by two to three cents, he said.

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