DC, April 15, 2004 (ENS): Creekstone Farms
Premium Beef LLC, a privately owned producer and processor,
is threatening legal action against the U.S. Department
of Agriculture over the agency's decision last week
not to allow it to voluntarily test all of its cattle
for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), known as
mad cow disease.
Creekstone Farms asked the USDA in February to allow the
company to conduct private testing for mad cow disease
at its Arkansas City, Kansas processing plant. The company
wants to regain entry into the Japanese beef market where
its products were once prized for their high quality.
grazing on the Great Plains in Colorado.
Since the discovery of one BSE infected cow in Washington
state in December 2003, Japan and 57 other countries
have banned U.S. beef imports.
Creekstone Farms has agreed to meet Japanese requirements
by testing each and every one of the carcasses it would
export to Japan for BSE.
But the USDA refused the license request from Creekstone
Farms. "We are looking at what the consensus of
international experts is when it comes to testing, and
that consensus is that 100 percent testing is not justified,"
Agriculture Department spokeswoman Alisa Harrison said.
"That's why we feel at this time we cannot grant
Creekstone's requested timeline for a decision."
In a letter to USDA officials on Tuesday, Creekstone
Farms CEO John Stewart and COO Bill Fielding said the
company will challenge the USDA’s decision, and
is currently analyzing its legal options.
"We are challenging USDA’s authority to
control the sales of BSE diagnostic tests in the United
States and your decision to prohibit companies like
Creekstone Farms from conducting 100% testing of young
animals that would meet our customers’ needs and
requirements," wrote the beef company officials.
They said the USDA decision is costing Creekstone Farms
a minimum of $200,000 a day in lost revenues, and put
the agency on notice that the company will "continue
to track this loss on a daily basis to determine damages."
Last year, the Sumitomo Corporation of America began
to export high quality beef from Creekstone Farms in
north central Kentucky to Japan. Sumitomo approached
Creekstone due to its highly specialized breeding facility
said Tetsuro Tajima, Sumitomo meat products manager.
Creekstone's quality control system is important for
marketing to the Japanese consumer, particularly in
light of recent health concerns with beef, including
mad cow disease, Tajima said. "We are able to explain
to our customers that the beef is safe and healthy,
because every process is controlled through slaughter
But Creekstone has lost Sumitomo and other customers
over the USDA’s plan to test only some 220,000
of the 35 million head of cattle slaughtered for meat
each year in the United States.
On Monday, Japanese Vice Agriculture Minister Mamoru
Ishihara said the U.S. government’s decision not
to accept Creekstone’s offer is, "frankly
Yesterday, the 102 year old National Farmers Union
took a position in support of Creekstone Farms, urging
the USDA to allow U.S. beef processors to regain access
to international beef markets by voluntarily testing
cattle for the fatal brain wasting disease.
National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson
said, “We find it troubling that the USDA has
denied Creekstone Farms the opportunity to meet the
wishes of an important customer and regain access to
the Japanese market. This decision prevents excellent
marketing opportunities for farmer owned beef cooperatives
and other small processors of quality U.S. grown beef.”
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Frederickson
wrote, “Without taking measures to satisfy the
needs of our international beef customers, we cannot
expect to regain the full value of our export market
or reopen the foreign markets now closed to our products.
While ‘sound science’ is often recited as
rationale to not test all processed animals for BSE,
we must recognize that international trade is not based
purely on scientific standards.”
National Farmers Union is a general farm organization
with a membership of nearly 250,000 farm and ranch families
in all states. “It is our hope that USDA will
do its part to reestablish international trade for U.S.
cattle and beef products by reversing its Creekstone
Farm decision and implementing mandatory country-of-origin
food labeling,” Frederickson said.
Using the Rapid Test method for BSE, Creekstone Farms
would to test more cattle than the USDA, at a lower
cost, Stewart and Fielding wrote in their letter to
USDA officials. "If our plan were to be implemented,
we would test over 300,000 head of cattle over the course
of a year, versus the USDA proposed cattle population
of approximately 220,000 head."
"As well, the USDA is planning on spending a minimum
of $72 million of taxpayer money to conduct these tests.
The Creekstone Farms’ plan will cost less than
$6 million using the identical test kit, and our customers
are willing to pay for the cost of the testing,"
the company officials wrote.
The company asks on what legal grounds the USDA would
prohibit a private industry from performing a Rapid
Test method for BSE. If testing young cattle is not
a food safety issue, does it fall under the USDA Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) or the Food
and Drug Administration, the company asks.
It asks for the scientific basis for the decision to
prohibit all specified risk materials, such as the brain
and spinal cord, from animals of all ages if, as the
USDA has stated, mad cow disease does not occur in cattle
under 30 months of age. However, the company points
out, "There have been young cattle (under 30 months)
in Japan and England testing positive for BSE."
The company asks how the USDA can certify domestic
and international sales/production of natural or organic
beef products without testing all animals.
How can the USDA justify spending $72,000,000 in taxpayer
funds to test 221,000 head of cattle in 12 months for
$325/head, when a private company will use the same
test method as APHIS to test 300,000 head for $5.4 million
paid for by consumers in 12 months, at a cost of $18/head,
Creekstone Farms asks.
Complete preparation and training to conduct the BSE
testing took Creekstone Farms one month, the company
wrote, asking why it would take APHIS five months to
fully implement their program.
Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney was in Japan
this week and has obtained an invitation for U.S. agriculture
officials from the Japanese government to reopen consultations
on the BSE issue. Cheney said he is hopeful that talks
could lay the groundwork for a resolution to the dispute.
Agriculture Department spokesman Ed Loyd said USDA
Undersecretary J.B. Penn will lead a delegation to Japan
on April 22 and 23 to reopen talks.