20, 2004: The discovery of the first cow infected
with mad cow disease in the U.S. has triggered a series of
regulatory changes by the United States Department of
- banned all 'downer'' cattle from the human food chain;
- banned high-risk head and spinal column material from
the human food chain;
- required additional process controls for a technology
known as advanced meat recovery;
- required holding meat from cattle that have been tested
for BSE until the test has confirmed negative;
- prohibited the air-injection stunning of cattle;
- began immediate implementation of a verifiable system
of national animal identification; and
- continued an aggressive surveillance program for BSE,
meaning more cattle brains will be tested for BSE.
What a difference one cow makes. On December 22, the day
before the discovery of the infected cow in Washington State,
proponents of these regulations would have been roundly criticized
as being out of touch with sound science.
And the changes will probably escalate. Senator Tom Daschle,
a Democrat from the state of South Dakota, is promoting a
list of additional regulatory changes:
- move towards testing all cattle;
- cancel the two-year delay in mandatory country-of-origin
labeling for beef and pork; and
- re-close the border to all Canadian beef products. Daschle
wants the Unites States Department of Agriculture to tell
us Canadians to keep our boneless boxed beef at home.
Whatever happened to the sound science of December 22 that
said none of these regulatory changes were necessary? Two
First, the science changed. The discovery of the first BSE-infected
cow in the U.S., just as the discovery of the first in Canada,
was a blinding scientific fact. In spite of an early protection
system the disease got into both countries. Our level of vigilance
was not enough to keep out the disease. Once here, dare we
assume that existing firewalls and protection systems are
enough to keep the disease from establishing itself in our
cattle herds, as it did in the U.K?
Second, our American friends, with a long history of accepting
that a certain amount of risk is unavoidable in daily life,
found that tolerance for risk severely tested by the 9/11
tragedy at the hands of terrorists. The legal framework that
assumes a product or a process is safe unless there has been
some demonstration of danger still exists in the U.S. But
is their heart still in it? Almost every announcement of new
regulations has included the new phrase "out of an abundance
When it comes to the safety of their food, our American friends
are becoming as careful and cautious and risk averse as Europeans.
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