Sunday, June 26, 2005

My mistake

So here I was yesterday, getting all righteous and accusing the govmint of maybe sitting on bad Mad Cow test results for a few days so they could release them on Friday night. But it seems this set of test results has been sitting around for the past several months:

Although the Agriculture Department confirmed Friday that a cow that died last year was infected with mad cow disease, a test the agency conducted seven months ago indicated that the animal had the disease. The result was never publicly disclosed.

The delay in confirming the United States' second case of mad cow disease seems to underscore what critics of the agency have said for a long time: that there are serious and systemic problems in the way the Agriculture Department tests animals for mad cow.

Indeed, the lengthy delay occurred despite the intense national interest in the disease and the fact that many countries have banned shipments of beef from the United States because of what they consider to be lax testing policies.

Until Friday, it was not public knowledge that an "experimental" test had been performed last November by an Agriculture Department laboratory on the brain of a cow suspected of having mad cow disease, and that the test had come up positive.

For seven months, all that was known was that a test on the same cow done at the same laboratory at roughly the same time had come up negative. The negative result was obtained using a test that the Agriculture Department refers to as its "gold standard."

The explanation that the department gave late Friday, when the positive test result came to light, was that there was no bad intention or cover-up, and that the test in question was only experimental.

"The laboratory folks just never mentioned it to anyone higher up," said Ed Loyd, an Agriculture Department spokesman. "They didn't know if it was valid or not, so they didn't report it."

On hearing that Friday night, Dr. Michael K. Hansen, a senior research associate at Consumers Union and frequent department critic, reacted skeptically.

"That seems hard to fathom," he said. "If it's true, we have a serious communication problem at the Department of Agriculture. How can we be confident of anything they're saying?"
The nation's mad cow testing system is now infuriating both ranchers and consumers. Consumer lobbyists say the flawed results show once again that 15 years of testing has been dangerously inadequate. And now the beef lobby, which has long enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Agriculture Department, is complaining that the testing system is dangerously unpredictable.

Jim McAdams, president of the 25,000-member National Cattlemen's Beef Association, has complained that unexpected testing creates "great anxiety within our industry," and leads to "significant losses."

Thirty-six countries have shut their doors to American beef, virtually wiping out a $3 billion export market, which Australia happily moved into.

Read the whole sordid story here. Then read about how more extensive and "costly" testing might well be more economically advantageous than the ostrich approach here.

And then, enjoy your weekend barbecues, everybody!


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