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Mad Cow Disease

Congress questions adequacy of current testing

February 2, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 5

Congress last week hosted two events on what to do about mad cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry held a well-attended hearing on the topic, and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) moderated a scientific forum on BSE.

At the hearing, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said that USDA's practice of testing only 20,000 animals for BSE out of 38 million slaughtered each year is adequate, yet announced plans to double the number tested. The EU, in contrast, tests all slaughtered cattle over 30 months old, and Japan tests all animals intended for the human food supply.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester M. Crawford Jr. said changes that his agency made last week in cattle feed regulations will provide additional protections against BSE. FDA banned cow blood as a milk replacer for calves and the feeding of chicken litter to cattle. Both are potential sources of infective BSE prions.

But more testing was the primary issue. "At the current level of testing, we have no real estimate of the true prevalence rate of BSE in our country," Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

At DeLauro's forum, Nobel Laureate Stanley B. Prusiner, who won the prize for discovering prions, concurred. "I cannot understand why our country remains unwilling to adopt the Japanese policy of testing every cow and bull destined for consumption by humans," he said. "Any mammal is capable of producing prions spontaneously," and only widespread testing can find it, he explained.

On Jan. 27, Durbin and DeLauro introduced legislation requiring that all slaughtered cattle over 30 months old be tested for BSE.


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