08 May 2004

From Today's New York Times

More Mad Cow Mischief

The federal Department of Agriculture is making it hard for anyone to feel confident that the nation is adequately protected against mad cow disease. At a time when the department should be bending over backward to reassure consumers, it keeps taking actions that suggest more concern with protecting the financial interests of the beef industry than with protecting public health.

Just a few weeks ago, the department refused to let a small private company test its cattle for mad cow disease to satisfy Japanese customers. That decision was incomprehensible, unless it was driven by a desire to protect the beef industry from pressure to conduct such tests on all 35 million cattle slaughtered annually in this country.

Now the department has been caught refusing to test a cow that collapsed at a slaughterhouse in Texas; such a collapse could be an indication of mad cow disease. The department's own inspectors at the site wanted to take a brain sample for testing but were overruled by their regional office.

Further evidence of lax regulation emerged when the department quietly expanded the range of beef products that could be imported from Canada, where mad cow disease has been detected, only to be stopped short by a lawsuit.

There is no evidence yet that mad cow disease has invaded American cattle and thus no reason for inordinate worry. The task ahead is to make sure that our herds remain free of the disease. No one can be confident if the department remains so blatantly protective of the American meat industry.

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