Mad cow may have slipped through crack in testing

SAN ANGELO, Texas, May 5, 2004 (ENS): The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is fielding criticism of an employee's decision not to test a cow for mad cow disease after it was seen to stagger and fall April 27 at Lone Star Beef in San Angelo, Texas.

“The cow in question was condemned and prohibited from entering the human food chain on antemortem inspection by a veterinarian with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the USDA said through a joint statement issued Tuesday by Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Dr. Barbara Masters, acting administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

"The veterinarian condemned the animal after observing the cow stagger and fall, indicating either an injury or potentially a central nervous system (CNS) disorder or other health condition," the two officials said.

Mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a fatal disease of the central nervous system.

“Standard procedures call for animals condemned due to possible CNS disorder to be kept until APHIS officials can collect samples for testing. However, this did not occur in this case and the animal was sent to rendering. The rendered product from this animal did not enter the human food chain; it presents no risk to human health," DeHaven and Masters said.

“The Food and Drug Administration’s feed ban prohibits rendered products from this or any other cow to be fed to other ruminants," they said. The Food and Drug Administration is addressing the proper disposition of the rendered product.

“We continue to investigate the circumstances of this case and will take appropriate actions once all information is available," they said.

One government source and another within the industry, both of whom say they have firsthand knowledge of events that day, said the final decision not to test the animal was made by an APHIS supervisor in Austin, Texas, after an APHIS technician at the meat packing plant advised her supervisor she was preparing to take a tissue sample from the culled animal for BSE testing. Both sources spoke to on condition of anonymity.

The two USDA officials said the agency is currently enhancing its surveillance program. The enhanced program, which kicks off June 1, "will target as many animals as possible from the populations considered to be at highest risk for BSE, including animals with signs of central nervous system disorders and nonambulatory animals," they said.

USDA will also include approximately 20,000 apparently healthy older animals in this sampling. As part of this effort, USDA is providing comprehensive training on USDA BSE sampling collection protocols to APHIS and FSIS employees, state veterinarians, accredited veterinarians, and participating veterinary technicians.

The additional training effort will help ensure that clear communications occur regarding collecting samples, the USDA officials said.

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