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Groups Ask USDA to Permit Companies to Conduct Mad Cow Tests; Urge Agency to Expand its Own Testing Program

April 19, 2004

Consumer, health, food safety and environmental groups are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to stand in the way of companies that want to test cattle for mad cow disease and are urging the agency to expand its own testing program to cattle over 20 months.

In a letter sent today to USDA Secretary Ann Veneman, thirteen organizations–including Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Friends of the Earth, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and CJD Voice–called on the agency to allow companies to use government-approved quick tests to conduct mad cow disease tests on their own.

“We urge the USDA to immediately address this problem by rapidly increasing its testing program to all cattle over the age of 20 months, and by allowing U.S. beef producers in the meantime to conduct government-approved BSE quick tests on beef for both American markets and to comply with other nation’s safety standards,” the letter said.

Creekstone Farms, a Kansas meatpacker, wants to buy the government-approved tests for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow, and conduct its own testing. But the USDA has refused to allow Creekstone or other producers to use the test, recently ruling that only the U.S. government-testing program can use them.

Currently, the USDA tests 20,000 animals a year, with plans to expand that to 200,000 a year, which is still less than 1 percent of all cattle slaughtered in the United States. Consumers Union and the groups support testing all cattle over the age of 20 months, the youngest age to date a positive BSE result has been discovered in international cattle-testing programs.

A nationwide poll conducted in January by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, after the discovery of a BSE-infected cow in Washington found overwhelming support for a comprehensive testing program. The survey found that 88 percent somewhat or strongly agreed that USDA should test all animals for BSE, and that 77 percent of beef-eating consumers were willing to pay more for tested beef.

“We find it incomprehensible that USDA would stand in the way of companies meeting consumer demand this way,” the letter said. “It is particularly difficult to understand your decision in light of the fact USDA has approved four quick tests for its own use.”

To view the letter, click HERE.

To view the national survey on mad cow testing, go towww.consumersunion.org.