Go Ahead, Your Beef is Perfectly Safe
Just more evidence that eating US beef is a Russian roulette crapshoot that enriches people who aren't fit to eat at your table.
One Producer of U.S. Beef Wants to Test All Its Cattle
By SANDRA BLAKESLEE, NYTimes
February 27, 2004
One beef producer in Kansas has proposed testing all its cattle for mad cow disease so it can resume exports to Japan, but it is encountering resistance from the Agriculture Department and other beef producers.
American beef exports have plummeted since Dec. 23 when a cow in Washington State was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or B.S.E., a fatal disease that can be passed to humans who eat infected cattle tissue.
To assure the safety of its meat, the company, Creekstone Farms of Arkansas City, Kan., a subsidiary of the Enterprise Management Group, wants to use rapid diagnostic tests that are routinely used in Japan and many European nations.
But no rapid tests have been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture, and department officials pointed out yesterday that it was against the law for any company to sell or market any unapproved diagnostic test. They said they would not respond to Creekstone's request until they evaluated the legal, regulatory and trade implications raised.
Other meat producers are upset by the company's request, saying it has broken ranks in an industry besieged by bad news. Dan Murphy, vice president for public affairs at the American Meat Industry, said American beef was so safe that widescale testing was unnecessary.
"Everybody is hurting from the export ban," Mr. Murphy said, "but their solution is not the right one." Any testing, he added, should take place under government oversight.
Creekstone's president, John Stewart, said in an interview that the company used to sell a quarter of its premium black Angus beef to Asian markets. Those markets are now closed, and the company is losing $80,000 a day. The Japanese government, he said, indicated it would probably buy meat that was tested with the same equipment.
"We have been looking at the idea of testing all our animals for some time," Mr. Stewart said. "This moved to the forefront with the most recent episode in Washington State. The problem we're having now is that the U.S.D.A. is not wanting to do this. They don't want to test. They don't want to recognize B.S.E. is a problem. They are not going to allow anyone to test until they decide how or when. We believe that may be never."
Mr. Stewart declined to identify the companies whose tests he was hoping to use.
But Bio-Rad, Inc. of Hercules, Calif., confirmed that it had talked with Creekstone about the mad cow testing equipment and rapid test kits it sends to Japan.
"We are talking to them to offer our expertise," a Bio-Rad spokeswoman, Susan Berg, said of Creekstone Farms. "But we can't do anything legally. We have no intention of breaking the law." She said that Bio-Rad submitted data for licensing approval earlier this year but has not heard back from the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
According to a statement from J. B. Penn, the under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, the Agriculture Department will respond to Creekstone when it has completed its evaluation.
A press spokesman, Jim Rogers, said that the reply will "take some time" and that anyone interested should "check back in future."
Details of the standoff were reported yesterday on a Web site, meatingplace.com, run by Meat Marketing Technology, a Chicago magazine that writes about the United States and Canadian meat processing industries. Lisa Ferguson, a senior staff veterinarian at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service told the magazine's editor, Daniel Yovich, that Creekstone would be violating a 1913 law that states that only the inspection service can license the use of animal diagnostic test kits.
But yesterday, Mr. Rogers said that the agency did not mean to imply that Creekstone Farms would face criminal penalties if it adopted mad cow testing. On the other hand, any company that sold such testing equipment to a meat processor could be breaking the law, he said.
Frustrated by the Agriculture Department's apparent foot dragging, Creekstone Farms went to its congressman, Todd Tiahrt, a Republican, for help. Chuck Napp, an aide, said, "We have contacted U.S.D.A. about this situation and are still waiting for a response."
"We believe farms ought to be able to do screening that meets the protocols of Asian governments," Mr. Napp said.
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