Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Inspections for Mad Cow Lag Those Done Abroad

Because no domestic cases of mad cow disease have been found before, the United States has never put in place the kind of stringent testing done in Japan and some European countries, where every animal is supposed to be tested before humans can eat it.

Inspectors are supposed to view cattle outside slaughterhouses and weed out any having trouble walking. Those with signs of brain disease are to be ruled unfit for human consumption and sent to a rendering plant.

That appears to have happened with the Washington cow. Yesterday, Elsa Murano, under secretary of agriculture for food safety, said its brain and spinal column had been sent to such a plant, to be turned into protein feed, oils and other products. It is the brain and spinal cord that are the most likely to be infected with prions, the misfolded proteins that can lead to a mad-cow-like disease in humans.

This does not guarantee that infected matter will never make its way into the human food supply, critics noted yesterday.

el - Democracy Now had a great segment today on just this problem. Prions can be transmited by blood and probably muscle as well. The solution was to ban feeding animal products to animals headed for human consumption but in a short-sided strategy agribusiness lobbied against this.

Mr. Stauber said an F.D.A. memorandum in 1997 predicted that if a single case of encephalopathy was found in the United States and a total ban on all feeding of animal protein to animals was immediately enacted, it was still possible that as many as 299,000 infected cows would be found over the next 11 years.

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