Published Date: 2004-05-07 23:50:00
Subject: PRO/AH> BSE surveillance - USA (TX)
Archive Number: 20040507.1246
BSE SURVEILLANCE - USA (TEXAS)
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: 6 May 2004
Source: NY Times [edited]
Calls for Federal Inquiry Over Untested Cow
Consumer groups called for a Congressional investigation yesterday
into the death of a cow with symptoms of brain damage at a Texas
slaughterhouse last week.
The cow, which staggered and collapsed after passing an initial
visual inspection at Lone Star Beef in San Angelo, Texas, was
condemned as unfit for human consumption and under federal
regulations should have been tested for mad cow disease.
Instead, it was sent to a rendering plant to be made into animal food
The Consumers Union, the Center for Food Safety and the Government
Accountability Project said yesterday that they wanted Congress to
look into why the cow was not tested and the possibility that federal
officials ordered that no test be done.
Consumer groups have regularly accused the Agriculture Department of
trying to avoid finding more mad cow disease because of the damage it
would do to the beef industry. Former beef industry officials hold
high positions in the department.
The department said yesterday that failing to take a sample was a
mistake and that it would investigate. Its inspector general's office
said it would do its own inquiry.
The consumer groups were reacting to an article published yesterday
by meatingplace.com, a meat industry Web site. Citing 2 anonymous
sources, it said it had 1st-hand knowledge of the events, one in
government and one in industry. The article said a federal inspector
had started to take a brain sample but was ordered not to by the
regional headquarters of the Agriculture Department in Austin, Texas.
Ed Loyd, a department spokesman, said he could not comment on the report.
A spokeswoman for the slaughterhouse said yesterday that the federal
inspectors had discussed taking a sample but decided against it. The
spokeswoman, Rosemary Mucklow, executive director of the National
Meat Association, which represents meatpackers, said they did not
explain why or describe a discussion with the Austin office.
The federal inspectors instructed the plant to slash the carcass and
paint it with green dye before putting it on the regular 3 p.m.
rendering truck, Ms. Mucklow said.
Felicia Nestor, director of food safety at the Government
Accountability Project, which protects federal whistle-blowers, said
she had heard of several recent instances in which inspectors had
been told by regional offices not to bother testing cows with signs
of brain damage. Ms. Nestor said the whistle-blowers did not want to
Staggering and collapse by a cow can be caused by head injuries,
rabies, agricultural poisons, or cancer, but mad cow disease can be
detected only by cutting off the animal's head, taking a sample from
the base of the brain and doing laboratory tests that are not now
performed in slaughterhouses.
Ms. Nestor said she had been told that some tests were skipped
because they were inconvenient. In a state like Texas, she said, the
drive to the regional office with samples could be several hundred
miles. But, she noted, other slaughterhouse inspectors have shipped
frozen heads or brains to the U.S.D.A. testing laboratory in Ames,
Mr. Loyd said he did not know the shipping procedures.
The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates rendering plants,
said Tuesday that it had tracked the slaughterhouse's shipment and
would require that it all be destroyed or made into pig feed. Swine
are thought not to be susceptible to mad cow disease.
Lone Star Beef is the country's 18th-largest slaughterhouse and
specializes in older dairy cattle, which are at highest risk of the
According to Steve Mitchell, a United Press International medical
reporter who has collected thousands of 2002 and 2003 slaughterhouse
records under the Freedom of Information Act, Lone Star Beef
slaughtered about 350 000 animals in those years and tested only 3.
Mr. Loyd confirmed that but explained that the animals normally
tested were those unable to walk, or "downers." Lone Star does not
accept downers because it is a supplier to McDonald's, which forbids
"The other plant in town had 90 tests," he said. "They accepted downers."
[Byline: Donald G. McNeil Jr.]
Date: 4 May 2004
From: ProMED-mail <email@example.com>
Source: United Press International [edited]
Only 3 cows have been tested for mad cow disease over the past 2
years at the Texas plant where federal testing policies for the
deadly disease were breached last week, according to U.S. Department
of Agriculture testing records obtained by United Press International.
The small number of tests occurred despite the fact that the plant,
Lone Star Beef in San Angelo, Texas, processes older, dairy cows,
which are considered to hold a high risk of being infected. The only
confirmed mad cow infection in U.S. herds occurred in December 2003
in a 6.5-year-old dairy cow in Washington state.
Lone Star is the 18th largest slaughterhouse in the country and
processed about 350 000 animals over the 2-year period. Its low
testing rate is particularly relevant, a USDA veterinarian and a
consumer advocate told UPI, because an animal with symptoms
consistent with mad cow disease appeared at the plant last week but
was never tested.
On 27 Apr 2004, a USDA veterinarian stationed at Lone Star condemned
a cow because it exhibited signs of a central nervous system
disorder, a possible indication of mad cow disease or other
conditions, such as poisoning or rabies.
USDA policy is that all animals with CNS signs should be tested for
mad cow because they are considered the most likely to be infected
with the deadly disorder. However, for reasons that remain unclear,
the animal was sent to a rendering plant before a sample of its brain
could be retained. This means it can no longer be tested and no one
can know for certain whether the cow was infected.
Officials of the USDA last week announced the testing protocol had
been breached and that is investigating the incident, but in the
meantime it said the animal was kept out of the human food supply and
poses no risk to people. The concern is that humans can contract an
incurable, fatal brain disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
disease [abbreviated as CJD (new var.) or vCJD in ProMED-mail] from
eating meat infected with the mad cow pathogen.
Ron DeHaven, administrator at USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection
Service, which oversees the agency's mad cow testing program,
declined a request from UPI to comment on the lack of testing at Lone
"USDA is currently investigating the situation in Texas," agency
spokesman Jim Rogers told UPI. "Due to this investigation, I must
decline your request for an interview," Rogers added.
All 3 animals tested at Lone Star Beef over the past 2 years were
screened within about a 2-week period in fiscal year 2003, according
to the USDA's mad-cow testing records for 2002 and the first 10
months of 2003 that UPI obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
One animal was tested on 20 Dec 2002, and 2 were tested on 3 Jan
2003. No animals from the plant were tested in fiscal year 2002. The
USDA follows the federal government's fiscal year, which runs from
Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
The 3 tested animals were 60, 72, and 96 months old, respectively --
all elderly by cow standards -- and all were downers, or unable to
stand, an indication the plant was processing both older and
high-risk animals. Downer cows are considered by the USDA to be among
those most likely to test positive for mad cow.
Lone Star Beef did not respond to a request by UPI for comment.
A 1998 issue of Cattle Buyer's Weekly magazine listed the plant's
primary product as boneless cow products, such as ground beef. This
generally consists of meat from culled cows -- those removed from
dairy herds because they are injured, sick or have stopped producing
milk, Lester Friedlander, a former veterinarian with the USDA's Food
Safety and Inspection Service, told UPI.
This would make it one of the highest-risk plants in the country for
receiving a mad cow, Friedlander said. The low number of mad-cow
tests at a high-risk plant such as Lone Star, indicates "the USDA
doesn't want to find the disease," he charged.
This type of plant "would be number one on my list" to establish a
mad cow surveillance program, Friedlander added. "This should be
investigated by Congress. It's about time Congress woke up and
started being a little more active in this."
UPI previously has reported the USDA's records show no tests had been
conducted from 2002 through July of 2003 at Vern's Moses Lake Meats
in Mabton, Wash., where the nation's only confirmed case of mad cow
was detected in December 2003. Vern's Moses Lake, like Lone Star,
processes culled dairy cows.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of the most vocal USDA critics in
Congress, called the failure to test the animal in Texas
Regarding the small number of tests at Lone Star, Harkin's spokesman
Matt Hartwig told UPI, "Senator Harkin will take this incident in
Texas very seriously and will take a look at our efforts to test
animals as they come through the processing facilities."
A Senate staff member, who requested anonymity, told UPI, "I'm sure
this issue won't go away anytime soon." Although the mad-cow issue
has quieted down on Capitol Hill in recent months, the aide said, "I
think this will cause people to pay attention and make sure we are
taking the necessary safeguards."
Felicia Nestor, senior policy adviser to the Government
Accountability Project in Washington, D.C., a group that works with
federal whistleblowers, said, "It's always surprising when you look
at this data -- just the gaps in what would seem sensible."
Nestor, who has followed the USDA's mad cow program closely for
several years, suggested there is an institutional barrier that makes
it difficult for APHIS employees to obtain samples. In many cases,
APHIS personnel pick up brain samples from the plants and send them
to a USDA lab in Ames, Iowa, to be tested.
Nestor said she has heard from USDA inspectors there are instances
where the APHIS veterinarian is located hundreds of miles from some
plants and therefore is inconvenienced by the distance when
collecting brain samples.
"The circumstantial evidence would suggest that's the situation here
(at Lone Star Beef)," she said.
USDA's Rogers said he would look into how close the nearest APHIS
veterinarian is to Lone Star, but he did not respond by UPI's
Nestor also expressed skepticism about the USDA's expanded mad cow
surveillance program, which is slated to begin on 1 Jun 2004.
"It really suggests we're not going to have adequate coverage under
the new surveillance system unless the agency explicitly states how
they're going to fix this problem," she said.
[Byline: Steve Mitchell]
Date: 4 May 2004
From: Alfonso Rodriguez <arodriguezm@SaludFMV.org>
Source: FDA Press Release [edited]
Statement on Texas Cow With Central Nervous System Symptoms
On Fri 30 Apr 2004, the Food and Drug Administration learned that a
cow with central nervous system symptoms had been killed and shipped
to a processor for rendering into animal protein for use in animal
FDA, which is responsible for the safety of animal feed, immediately
began an investigation. On Friday and throughout the weekend, FDA
investigators inspected the slaughterhouse, the rendering facility,
the farm where the animal came from, and the processor that initially
received the cow from the slaughterhouse.
FDA's investigation showed that the animal in question had already
been rendered into "meat and bone meal" (a type of protein animal
feed). Over the weekend FDA was able to track down all the implicated
material. That material is being held by the firm, which is
cooperating fully with FDA.
Cattle with central nervous system symptoms are of particular
interest, because cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy or
BSE, also known as "mad cow disease," can exhibit such symptoms. In
this case, there is no way now to test for BSE. But even if the cow
had BSE, FDA's animal feed rule would prohibit the feeding of its
rendered protein to other ruminant animals (e.g., cows, goats, sheep,
FDA is sending a letter to the firm summarizing its findings and
informing the firm that FDA will not object to use of this material
in swine feed only. If it is not used in swine feed, this material
will be destroyed. Pigs have been shown not to be susceptible to BSE.
If the firm agrees to use the material for swine feed only, FDA will
track the material all the way through the supply chain from the
processor to the farm to ensure that the feed is properly monitored
and used only as feed for pigs.
To protect the U.S. against BSE, FDA works to keep certain mammalian
protein out of animal feed for cattle and other ruminant animals. FDA
established its animal feed rule in 1997 after the BSE epidemic in
the U.K. showed that the disease spreads by feeding infected ruminant
protein to cattle.
Under the current regulation, the material from this Texas cow is not
allowed in feed for cattle or other ruminant animals. FDA's action
specifying that the material go only into swine feed means also that
it will not be fed to poultry.
FDA is committed to protecting the U.S. from BSE and collaborates
closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on all BSE issues.
The animal feed rule provides crucial protection against the spread
of BSE, but it is only one of several such firewalls. FDA will soon
be improving the animal feed rule, to make this strong system even
Date: 6 May 2004
Source: FSIS website [edited]
Joint Statement by Dr. Ron DeHaven, Administrator, Animal & Plant
Health Inspection Service and Dr. Barbara Masters, Acting
Administrator, Food Safety & Inspection
Service United Press International:
Media reports have questioned the health status of a cow that was
taken to slaughter on Tuesday, 27 Apr 2004, at Lone Star Beef in San
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 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.
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.
The Food and Drug Administration's feed ban prohibits rendered
products from this or any other cow to be fed to other ruminants. FDA
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.
USDA is currently enhancing its surveillance program. The program,
which kicks off 1 Jun 2004, 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. 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 communication occurs regarding collecting samples.
APHIS has tested approximately 20 000 animals each year for the past
2 years as part of our BSE surveillance program. This testing
includes targeted surveillance in adult animals that have clinical
signs that could be considered consistent with BSE, such as animals
with CNS signs, non-ambulatory animals, and animals that die on the
farm for unexplained reasons. Animals similar to the one in this case
will continue to be part of this routine surveillance."
[There are many reasons for a cow to present with apparent "CNS
signs". BSE is only one of these reasons, and an unlikely one at
that. The FDA knows which batch of rendered material the carcass
entered, and has taken great pains to ensure that this feed be
destroyed or fed to swine. Thus the risk to other ruminants is low.
This cow did not enter the human food chain.
This incident is much less about a threat to public health than a
crack in the surveillance system. Everyone involved should recognize
that good surveillance is the only way to ensure the safety of the
food supply over time. You can't do surveillance without good
sampling strategies and actually doing the tests that are supposed to
be done. Clearly, based on the reaction to this case, the public will
not and should not tolerate future lapses.
However, the notion that USDA or FDA does not want to find BSE has no
basis in fact. They have actually increased the projected number of
cows tested by 10-fold. There can be debate about whether that is
enough or whether they are taking the right kind of high-risk cows,
but clearly a significant effort is under way in the wake of the 1st
BSE case in December 2003 in Washington state.
A bad decision by someone in Texas or even a hole in the sampling
strategy which allows a plant to kill significant numbers of old,
higher-risk cows shouldn't obscure that fact that intensified
surveillance is valuable. - Mod.PC]