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Consumers Union has sent a letter to US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, questioning USDA’s expanded voluntary mad-cow surveillance program and is asking USDA to release details on the more than 400,000 cattle tested since the program was instituted. The letter specifically requests 1) the geographic location of sampled cattle (including the state where the cow was born, raised, and slaughtered), 2) the age of the cattle tested (CU currently supports testing of all cattle above 20 months), and 3) the disease/high-risk status of the cattle (for example, did they show symptoms of central nervous system disease, which are common symptoms of mad cow?).

“The government keeps telling Americans that they can trust that their beef is safe from mad cow, even going so far as to say that finding BSE is like searching for a needle in a haystack,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumers Union. “Yet, since the agency has so far failed to publicly disclose any information whatsoever about the details of the program, it makes us wonder how meaningful their search for the disease is at all.

“We want to know exactly which cattle were tested and whether or not they really represent the most valid scientific sampling of the highest-risk animals from across the country. If the USDA wants to truly reassure the American people, they should answer our questions. Their failure to do so would make us wonder what the agency is hiding.”

Two confirmed cases of mad cow disease have been identified in the past year and a half – one in a cow born in Canada, another in a cow born in Texas. A third case of mad cow is suspected though not confirmed in another cow native to the US.
KC's View:
We agree with the CU that the USDA seems not to have been transparent in its mad cow-related policies – apparently more concerned with politics and commerce and science and consumer interests. Even if this is not true, it is a perception shared by a lot of people, and it certainly won’t help the USDA’s credibility to be criticized by organizations like the Consumers Union.

Ultimately, complete and utter transparency will be good for business…and an atmosphere in which the government and industry seem to be hiding things will only be harmful, especially if more cases of mad cow are discovered.