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Appeals Court Rules US Can Block Mad Cow Testing 455

Posted by kdawson
from the please-pass-the-lentils dept.
fahrbot-bot tips a story of mad cow disease, a private meat packer that wants to test all of its beef for the disease, and the USDA, which controls access to the test kits and just won an appeals court ruling that the government has the authority to block testing above and beyond the 1% the agency performs. Creekstone Farms Premium Beef sought to test 100% of its beef, in order to reassure its export markets, especially Japan and South Korea, that its beef is safe. Large meat packers opposed any such private testing, because they feared they would be forced into 100% testing and would have to raise prices. The appeals court ruled, 2 to 1, that under a 1913 law, test kits that are used only after an animal is killed still constitute "diagnosis" and "treatment" — this for a disease that has no treatment and is 100% fatal — and therefore fall under the USDA's authority to regulate.
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Appeals Court Rules US Can Block Mad Cow Testing

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  • Again please... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dexomn (147950) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @07:48PM (#24814389)

    What?

    • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @07:49PM (#24814407) Homepage Journal
      Shorthand: This is not a democracy, it's a corporatocracy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)

        The part I don't understand is that it looks like the markets they lose due to not testing the meant that goes to those markets costs a lot more than the costs of the testing. It looks like that the big producers are preventing small ones exploiting markets left wide open due to their own stubbornness.

        • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:04PM (#24814543) Homepage Journal

          Sorry, here is a redo, that was badly worded.

          The part I don't understand is that losing those markets means that meat producers lose more due to not testing the product than the cost of testing.

          It looks like that the big producers are preventing small ones exploiting markets left wide open due to their own stubbornness. It may well be that they're afraid that people in the US and larger markets would start demanding wider testing. Maybe I should switch to chicken now.

          • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by tloh (451585) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:13PM (#24814613)
            I was about to agree with you. Then I RTFA:

            "There is a two- to eight-year incubation period for mad cow disease. Because most cattle slaughtered in the United States are less than 24 months old, the most common mad cow disease test is unlikely to catch the disease, the appeals court noted. If the government does not control the tests, the USDA is worried about beef exporters unilaterally giving consumers false assurance."

            Folks seem to neglect this minor detail that it is ultimately a good thing the USDA is taking measures to prevent mis-information and FUD from affecting beef exports.

            • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by rhakka (224319) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:33PM (#24814785)

              is the "most common" mad cow disease test the one that was going to be administered?

              administering a test when it is ineffective and claiming the results tell a consumer something is "fraud". we already have laws for that, the USDA doesn't have to do anything except note that it would be fraud to do that and point at the justice department should such a thing occur.

              right?

              • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

                by nomadic (141991)
                is the "most common" mad cow disease test the one that was going to be administered?

                Yes.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by cortesoft (1150075)
                Without special legislation prohibiting it, I doubt saying "Tested for Mad Cow" or labeling the beef as such would be a fraud. They did do just that; test for mad cow. It is just that the test can't detect the disease in its early stages. A label doesn't have to state all of the flaws in a test to say that it tests.
                • Re:Again please... (Score:4, Informative)

                  by rhakka (224319) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:05PM (#24815341)

                  I understand what you're saying, but certainly if you are claiming to have tested for mad cow with a test that is completely ineffective, it would take a severely autistic judge to rule that context, in that case, did not matter.

                  claiming you tested for mad cow would have to include a basic good faith effort to actually, you know, test for mad cow. Not just use a test that is intended to test for mad cow.

                  I could take the test and throw it at you. I did not, in fact, test you for mad cow, though I did use a test for mad cow disease. I could not label you "tested for mad cow disease".

                  Administering the test when it is known to be ineffective would be improperly utilizing the test; exactly as my throwing it at you is an improper administration of the test.

                  • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                    by MadnessASAP (1052274)

                    it would take a severely autistic judge to rule that context

                    Are you aware of the past and present behavior of the US legal system?

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                we already have laws for that

                Um, we are talking the USA aren't we, where lying for profit is a constitutional right?

                Just look at the advertisements in any popular "scientific" magazine from the USA and you will see ads for magic water that has hydrogen bond angles different from normal water, and gym equipment that can make you a muscleman in just two minutes a day.

                It is quite clear that there is no ASA (advertising standards agency) over there, and as for the political advertisements...

            • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by retchdog (1319261) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:34PM (#24814793) Journal

              Agreed. This is snake-oil, and from a practical point-of-view the government should put a stop to it. It would be nothing but a hundred-fold waste of test kits since, as noted, others would be pressured into doing it also.

              I recognize the idealistic objection, that the government shouldn't have a say at all. This is not without merit I suppose, but it would be nice to have a relatively "shallow" pragmatic analysis, rather than having every court ruling devolve into an argument (or rather, a one-sided rantfest) about Federalism.

              Note that if Creekstone (who I am sure is a paragon of decency and ethics as opposed to all those other corporations who are just in it for the money...) really wanted to do something about BSE, they could increase feed quality and living conditions e.g. by supplying free-range conditions less susceptible to epidemic. Why are they not doing this? Because it is cheaper to sell the snake-oil image of 100% testing.

            • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by winphreak (915766) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:34PM (#24814795)

              I was about to agree with you. Then I RTFA:

              "There is a two- to eight-year incubation period for mad cow disease. Because most cattle slaughtered in the United States are less than 24 months old, the most common mad cow disease test is unlikely to catch the disease, the appeals court noted. If the government does not control the tests, the USDA is worried about beef exporters unilaterally giving consumers false assurance."

              Folks seem to neglect this minor detail that it is ultimately a good thing the USDA is taking measures to prevent mis-information and FUD from affecting beef exports.

              Quite the rarity, a government organization trying to prevent a feeling of false security.

              P.S. Mod parent up, it's VERY relevant.

            • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Original Replica (908688) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:36PM (#24814807) Journal
              the USDA is taking measures to prevent mis-information and FUD from affecting beef exports.

              That's a very interesting and valid point, but what are they offering to replace the lack of testing with? Instead of spreading mis-information, they are preparing to hide behind willful ignorance should exported US Beef be found to have mad cow. "Willful ignorance of anything that might conflict with the official government line" is starting to become America's new primary reputation. The USDA isn't offering a method to ensure higher quality, they are only offering obstructions to those who are. Perhaps the company in question would be willing to wait until the cattle are three years old to ensure the testing accuracy, but they aren't being given that option. As an American, who loves his country, I really think we have reached the point as a culture and government where we deserve to fall miserably from or positions of wealth and power, for our own eventual good. Darwinism can only really be effective when there is hardship, and this country needs some serious darwinistic thinning of the herd. So I hope those beef producers relocate their headquarters and testing facilities to Mexico or Canada or Singapore, and create a lot of jobs and wealth somewhere far away, and that they send a Christmas card to the governor and congressional representatives of Kansas every year.
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Oligonicella (659917)
                You understand how MCD is spread, right? You also understand that it's illegal to feed cattle beef protein, right? You understand there have been 3 (1 imported from Canada) cases in the US in all of history, right? You understand there are some 35 million cattle brought to market yearly in the US, right?

                Do the math. We have the safest bovine industry on the planet.
                • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Informative)

                  by Daengbo (523424) <daengboNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @09:20PM (#24815063) Homepage Journal
                  Because I live in S. Korea, this issue was huge just a few months ago. Everyone was talking about it.

                  Then one of my co-workers tried to convince me that NZ beef was safer than US beef because there was more grass in NZ.

                  Misinformation from the local media.

                  Then more told me that the US wants to send SK old beef that Americans are unwilling to eat because it's too dangerous. Only beef over three years, they said. In reality, the trade agreement was exclusively for beef under three years (which has the lowest likelihood of being infected).

                  Also misinformation from the local media.

                  Finally, several people I talked to wanted to know if I was brave enough to eat US meat because they had been told that Americans are afraid of their own beef.

                  The media. Meh.
                • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by Original Replica (908688) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @09:23PM (#24815077) Journal
                  You do understand that none of that matters if we can't export the beef right? You do know that bans on American Beef are only now being lifted in many countries across the world, and that single incident will bring those bans right back, and for a longer time, right? [nytimes.com] I don't know that I would go around touting the safety of an industry that had to recall 143 million pounds of beef because they were found to be sneaking cattle to sick to stand into the slaughterhouse. [reuters.com] Face it, big industry beef is nasty dirty. [marlerclark.com] There seems to be a big e.coli recall every few years, that is polite wording for cow shit mixed into the meat. Is it any wonder that other countries would view US Beef with a few worries about disease? Is there any better way to relieve that worry other than higher levels of testing and stricter quality control? Is the USDA showing any initiative on that? no, no, and no.
                • Oh? Given the rareness of testing and the difficulty of diagnosis of the victims, we could easily have dozens of unnoticed cases. So don't be so sure about the safety of the US beef supply. Also, any cases detected are likely to be hushed up if at all possible to avoid exactly the sort of loss of markets the British had when they discoverd cases.
                  • You can claim all sorts of things are possible and be paranoid about it. Sure, MAYBE we have dozens of unnoticed cases But without any evidence you're just stirring up false paranoia
                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by Lendrick (314723)

                  Very true. That said, if a company wants to do something perfectly safe with their product that they feel will generate more sales, they ought to be able to do so.

                  Funny how the same Republicans who *love* the free market when it suits them start crying foul when it's used in a way that makes big companies sad.

                • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Interesting)

                  by the_B0fh (208483) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:14PM (#24815385) Homepage

                  Sure. You're right. All the scientists who actually study this is wrong. All those reports about deer being infected are wrong.

                  For someone who claims that we have the safest bovine industry is someone who is ignorant of how the Brits run their bovine industry _after_ their bovine industry was devastated by MCD, and they had to wipe out every single cow. Now, every cow is tracked from birth. And yet, *you* believe our bovine industry is safer. Bah, humbug.

                  • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                    by cliffski (65094)

                    Excellent post. My better half works in research into BSE here in the UK, and I can assure you that the Brits are now absolutely paranoid about testing for it. British beef *is* by far the safest in the world, although that's a hollow boast because we had to learn the hard way, by practically wiping out an entire industry.

                    We are also nowhere near to even vaguely having a cure for this thing, or for that matter, a test that can reliably work on a live animal. Ignore the potential damage from BSE at your peri

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by Firehed (942385)

                  Yes, but anyone who can sell to a fear-induced market will exploit that to greater profit. It's not unlike the War on Terror, which was provoked by an incident that caused fewer deaths by far than we have from automobile accidents, almost all diseases, shootings, and pretty much anything short of death by lightning strike. More people die of natural causes in a day than were killed in the 9/11 attacks. That certainly doesn't make the incident okay by a longshot, but you can see what the outcome has been.

            • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by davester666 (731373) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @09:07PM (#24814987) Journal

              "Folks seem to neglect this minor detail that it is ultimately a good thing the USDA is taking measures to prevent mis-information and FUD from affecting beef exports."

              This is not about falsely misleading consumers that everything is safe. The FDA cannot with a straight face [well, maybe with the current administration they could) say that testing 1% of all cows and not finding MCD is better and safer for consumers than testing 100% of all cows and not finding MCD.

              Quite the opposite. The FDA is worried about someone actually finding a cow with with mad cow disease. If a significant number of cases gets reported, the entire industry goes to hell. All exports from the US drop to zero. Domestic consumption (at least for domestic beef) would drop sharply, particularly if the incubation period was also reported [in that cows could be infected but still test clean].

              Sure testing would be expensive, but actually getting a positive would devastate the industry.

              As for cost:
              http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506E6DC1431F934A25750C0A9629C8B63 [nytimes.com]
              Tadashi Sato, agricultural attaché at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, The Associated Press reported. ''We test all slaughtered cattle, regardless of age -- not some.''

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by schwaang (667808)

                [a Japanese official said:]''We test all slaughtered cattle, regardless of age -- not some.''

                This is a point that deserves to be modded up.

                In the the spin that this kind of testing is meaningless and therefore would be misleading --- it's the same testing that Japan does on all of their beef. To disallow voluntary testing is just insane, corrupt, and sociopathic.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by pz (113803)

                The FDA is worried about someone actually finding a cow with with mad cow disease.

                I'm glad that someone else understands what's really going on here.

                When the single previous case of BSE was discovered in the US, by statistical extrapolation, it was safe to estimate that there were about 50,000 head infected. (Given the fraction of the cattle that are tested and the total number of cattle in the US; this, of course, is a very poor estimate because of low N statistics, but the probable number of affected head can still be calculated, and it is in the 50,000 range.) Chances are quite high

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by applegoddess (768530)
              On a sidenote, the article also notes an issue involving South Korea/Japan and US beef imports. If I remember the South Korea situation correctly, the agreement (or rather, the lifting of the ban on US beef imports) involved the possibility of 30+ month old cattle. The agreement was then revised after much protesting to exclude cattle older than 30 months. 30+ months and less than 24 months in the US are..not exactly the same. I can see why people would be worried then.

              Source: http://www.cnn.com/2008/WOR [cnn.com]
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by Cassander (251642)

              Um, is it just me or did the USDA just say that their mad cow test doesn't work?

              What's the point of the little bit of testing they are currently doing if the test is "unlikely to catch the disease" for "most cattle slaughtered in the U.S."?

            • I missed that paragraph.

              The problem here is that the destination markets don't seem to care, they've already been taken in by the FUD. I doubt those foreign markets are going to accept a lecture or correction from the USDA.

              Being unwilling to allow exporters a means to comply with the demands of the destination markets, however stupid those demands may be, seems pretty silly to me.

            • by b4upoo (166390)

              My only thought would be to protect people and care less about beef producers making a living. Maybe we need an age requirement such that each cow could be properly tested if it can't be tested in younger cattle.

            • by luwain (66565)

              Actually, it's quite possible the appeals court doesn't entirely understand the nature of the disease, or it's method of detection. The incubation period really pertains to the amount of time before the disease becomes apparent through the appearance of symptoms. The disease agent can be detected much sooner. The disease agent is a protein called a prion, which in it's "normal" form exists in the brains of most mammals and aids in the "metabolism" of copper in the brain. The protein can exists in a differen

            • Re:Again please... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by xigxag (167441) on Sunday August 31, 2008 @12:07AM (#24815987)

              Fine, but what seems odd to me is that according to this page [consumersunion.org], the EU is using the same test on their cattle and found 1,100 cases in a five year testing period. It says that although BSE may have a lengthy incubation period, in some cases the disease can be detected in cows that were asymptomatic while alive. In short it alleges that the test is not completely worthless after all.

              I'd like to believe that the government is only looking out for our best interests as citizens and that that is its only consideration but frankly its track record is not good.

              It would make more sense, IMO, for the government to allow this one company to spend money, if it wishes, on this supposedly pointless test. If nothing turns up over a period of time then the company should be allowed to label its export products as "100% BSE tested according to international standards" but should not be allowed to use any such labeling on beef meant for domestic consumption. Then foreign markets will be happy but the USDA can still uphold its aim of protecting the US consumer from possible misinformation.

  • outsource it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sustik (90111) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @07:50PM (#24814415)

    Could not they just outsource testing to a non-US company? Or would that be much more expensive?

  • by houbou (1097327) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @07:58PM (#24814495) Journal

    A private meat packer company wants to test all of it's beef products for safety and health issues and to reassure their export customers that their products are safe. Ok, that's a good thing.. right? RIGHT? and the USDA will NOT allow them. uh.. that's a bad thing.. right? BAD? UH?

    Let's see, what's wrong with this picture? I mean, for pete's sakes, shouldn't we applause any company wishing to ensure their food products are 100% safe? Let's give Creekstone Farms Premium Beef credit and a hand folks!

    Now, you would think that the USDA would instead do the following:

    • enforce the 1% rule of testing as a minimum standard of compliance
    • any company wishing to be more thorough should be allowed to
    • they should also be allowed to promote their products are more thoroughly tested too!

    This is one of the many and many cases where money is more important than people, remember that folks! The government wants your taxes, not your health!

    • by gruntled (107194) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:07PM (#24814563)

      This is clearly an attempt to protect the industry from being compelled to institute 100 per cent testing for all material due to competitive pressure. Not only is this repugnant from a purely "what kind of inhuman bastard would allow people to become infected with a horrible disease" perspective, it's also in direct violation of the free market mentra these soulless creatures swear by. Truly loathsome behavior.

      • by gruntled (107194)

        sigh. Mantra, not "mentra"...

      • This is clearly an attempt to protect the industry from being compelled to institute 100 per cent testing for all material due to competitive pressure.

        I see this as more about the USDA holding on to it's exclusive control of the testing and the power derived from that control. I doubt they give a fuck about protecting the industry other than as a more PR reason for their actions. If they were worried about the industry or safety first, they would allow the testing and possible competition, allowing the sa
        • by gruntled (107194)

          While individuals that make up a bureaucracy and even small insular beureaucratic groups sometimes engage in arbitrary and capricious uses of power, it's actually quite rare for an agency of the United States government to flex its muscles without some sort of clear objective beyond proving that they can.

      • by pizzach (1011925)

        This is in no way a new thing. This is caused by most Americans not giving a rats-ass about the quality of their food and a government that is bent on protecting farmers over the consumers.

        A while ago some local dairy farmers started marking their milk cartons to tell the public that their milk does not come from cows that receive hormone injections to increase yields. Farmers are not allowed to do this by the government for the same reasons as the mad cow testing here.

        Our government has something against

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Solandri (704621)

        No, it is an attempt to prevent misleading marketing from unnecessarily driving up the price of meat. About 35 million cows are slaughtered in the U.S. If you test 1% of them, you get a maximum margin of error of about 0.17%. Testing 10% would only reduce that error margin to 0.05% while increasing the cost 10x. Testing 50% would reduce the error margin to 0.02% while increasing cost by 50x.

        There's a point beyond which testing leaves the realm of statistical cost-effectiveness. The only value of such t

        • by gruntled (107194)

          It was just this same sound mathematical policy that led to the deaths of 107 people in Britain from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Since the disease is extremely rare to begin with, testing samples don't really help you prevent the rare outbreak. Now, you might argue that there are cost benefit issues here, that a couple of hundred people who go mad and die in an agonizing fashion over several years doesn't justify testing every product sold, but others might disagree. I wonder if the US would block import of

          • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:03PM (#24815323)

            It was just this same sound mathematical policy that led to the deaths of 107 people in Britain from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

            No, it was failure to recognize the disease as a threat that lead to those people dying. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy and scrapie [wikipedia.org] have been known about for centuries. But until the first C-J cases were traced, it was thought that those diseases couldn't be transmitted to humans.

            Since the disease is extremely rare to begin with, testing samples don't really help you prevent the rare outbreak. Now, you might argue that there are cost benefit issues here, that a couple of hundred people who go mad and die in an agonizing fashion over several years doesn't justify testing every product sold, but others might disagree. I wonder if the US would block import of beef labelled as "tested for mad cow disease" as a threat to the market?

            If the only disease we had to worry about were BSE, then you'd be right. Unfortunately there are thousands of diseases we have to test and monitor for. You can't test 100% of all food for all of them - it would be prohibitively expensive. So you have to resort to partial testing in proportion to the prevalence of the disease and the magnitude of its deleterious effect on humans. 100% safety is an unattainable goal, and failure to achieve it should never be assumed to be evidence of negligence or malfeasance.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by gruntled (107194)

              I would argue that it's hardly negligent to offer consumers the opportunity to purchase tested products, even if those tested products cost more (this is the same argument used with regard to "organic" products). For people like you, who are happy to assume an admittedly small risk in return for cheaper meat, feel free. For people like me, who would gladly pay a little extra for products that have been tested, why shouldn't I have the opportunity?

              You can call this marketing if you wish; having seen the resu

        • About 35 million cows are slaughtered in the U.S. If you test 1% of them, you get a maximum margin of error of about 0.17%. Testing 10% would only reduce that error margin to 0.05% while increasing the cost 10x. Testing 50% would reduce the error margin to 0.02% while increasing cost by 50x.

          You've got a lot of assumptions there.

          Like, for example, that testing is distributed uniformly across the population.

          And second that cows are discrete.

          Yeah, you heard me, cattle are not discrete. Two words -- ground beef. Unless your butcher grinds it himself, chances are that ground beef sold in your local grocery or used in burgers at the local fast-food joint is made out of hundreds, if not thousands of different cattle that have essentially all been tossed into one giant blender. Even if your local b

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Sibko (1036168)

          Yet, if you test 100% of the meat, you'd effectively stop any chance of mad cow disease making its way to market.

          By the way, if you were to take 300,000,000 Americans, 0.17% ends up being 510,000 people.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:03PM (#24815329)

          'Add in salaries of lab technicians, the cost of grinding up and delivering cattle brain samples for testing, and the tab would be $30 to $50 per animal, industry experts say. The average U.S. cow slaughtered for food yields meat with a retail value of $1,636.

          Each year in the U.S., about 35 million cattle are slaughtered. About 10 million of these animals -- those over 30 months of age -- would be tested for BSE if the U.S. were to adopt European standards, because age is associated with infection.

          The grand total to test about 10 million cows in the U.S. would be $300 to $500 million a year. Considering that Americans spend more than $50 billion on beef annually, that would add between six cents and 10 cents per pound.

          "Cost should not be a prohibitive factor," says Scott McKinlay, president of InPro Biotechnology Inc., South San Francisco, Calif., a test-kit maker founded by Nobel Prize-winning researcher Stanley B. Prusiner.

          "Look at Canada as an example," says Mr. McKinlay. "They have suffered about a $600 million loss already" in lost beef exports and consumption.'
          http://www.rense.com/general47/cost.htm

        • by Cassini2 (956052) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:08PM (#24815353)

          The problem with Mad Cow disease is that it is extremely rare. If you slaughter 35 million cows annually, and only 1 in 10,000,000 cows have the disease, then a 1% testing regime is essentially guaranteed to never find the problem. With the numbers given, the 1% testing regime has only a 3.4% chance of detecting a 1 in 10,000,000 problem. Worse, some sample bias is likely present in the 1%, because it will be weighted disproportionately on the younger cattle, as meat cattle are often slaughtered young and young cattle are less likely to have mad cow disease. On the other hand, a 100% testing regime will almost certainly detect mad cow disease, as everything will be tested. Of course, if you find the problem, then it will be a big issue for the meat industry, which will then have to do something about it. This type of strategy is what made the problem so massive in Britain before it was finally caught and dealt with.

          From everything I have read, there almost certainly was trace quantities of mad cow disease in the North American meat supply, and these trace quantities will be undetectable with current sampling methods. As such, we cannot really be certain that mad cow is definitely not present anymore, because we are not testing the meat supply effectively enough to find out.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      At least one government agency has pulled a little trick like this every single day for the past eight years. Just look at the EPA for example.

  • That's so damn low. Why can't they think about it sort like milk? We've got whole milk, 2%, 1%, and skim milk. Obviously there is a market for no, 1%, 2%, and 100% testing.

  • USDA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:02PM (#24814531) Homepage

    The USDA has been a bane to freedom in agriculture since its inception.

    One trick the USDA pulls is crop scheduling. When you join the USDA's system, they will tell you what crops to grow at what times, and they will also subsidize you. Joining their system is optional - but unless everyone in your region joins, no one gets the subsidies.

    Therefore, you join and plant what they tell you, or you get lynched by your neighbors.

  • That I don't eat beef and, especially, pork. While the conditions in packing plants and slaughterhouses may be 'monitored', they are simply not 100% (or as close as humanly possible).
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      For every animal you don't eat, I'm going to eat three.

      I type this as I eat pork fried rice with my beef and broccoli. Damn, I need to find a 3rd meat... Oh, the chicken fingers we had as an appetizer.
  • by j0nb0y (107699) <.jonboy300. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:05PM (#24814547) Homepage

    The Constitution is a living document... otherwise the federal government wouldn't have this power.

    A real question here is *why* the FDA is so hell bent on blocking testing for mad cow disease... and I think we all know the reason why... the tests would reveal that mad cow disease is rampant within the US Beef supply.

    As additional support for this theory, I offer this factoid: The US response to mad cow disease was to institute new regulations that mandated cows be slaughtered before they could reach the age that mad cow disease can first exhibit symptoms. This regulation does nothing to stop the spread of mad cow disease, of course, but it is very effective at sweeping the problem under the rug.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go eat a bacon cheeseburger. Mmmmmm.

    • by Schnoodledorfer (1223854) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:42PM (#24814849)

      A real question here is *why* the FDA is so hell bent on blocking testing for mad cow disease... and I think we all know the reason why... the tests would reveal that mad cow disease is rampant within the US Beef supply.

      As additional support for this theory, I offer this factoid: The US response to mad cow disease was to institute new regulations that mandated cows be slaughtered before they could reach the age that mad cow disease can first exhibit symptoms. This regulation does nothing to stop the spread of mad cow disease, of course, but it is very effective at sweeping the problem under the rug.

      RTFA:

      Because most cattle slaughtered in the United States are less than 24 months old, the most common mad cow disease test is unlikely to catch the disease, the appeals court noted. If the government does not control the tests, the USDA is worried about beef exporters unilaterally giving consumers false assurance.

      The actual decision (PDF) [uscourts.gov] made it clear that the company wanted to use the test that won't work. Not letting them use a test that will only give a positive result, accurate or not, is not sweeping things under a rug.

      • Not letting them use a test that will only give a positive result, accurate or not, is not sweeping things under a rug.

        The test fails to detect the presence of the disease. Failing to find evidence of the disease is a negative result, not a positive one, in this context. Sorry.

    • by rm999 (775449)

      "the tests would reveal that mad cow disease is rampant within the US Beef supply."

      The tests are already executed, just on 1% of beef instead of 100%. Statistically, if there is a rampant problem, 1% should be more than enough.

    • by Oligonicella (659917) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:59PM (#24814939)
      Um, no. They have to be tested after 36 months or if fallen stock or if displaying any symptoms a vet finds suspicious.

      Rampant? You're an idiot. There have been 2 cases of US cattle with MCD in US history.
      • by the_B0fh (208483)

        And on one of those cases, the FDA head refused to allow one of the scientists to send the sample to UK for further testing.

        So I do believe there's a cover up.

        And with deer all getting infected (witness that governor eating venison and going "yum yum, our deer is safe" - this is going to be pretty bad).

        So who's the idiot now?

    • by Kanasta (70274)

      Exactly. I thought the job of the government is to ensure that food is safe, not to prevent testing to see if food is safe. I guess now they expect the Japanese to say 'oh well, they're not allowed to test their beef, so let's lift the ban on imports'

  • Wealth wins again in the war of Health vs Wealth.

    Well, I should say, Wealth for a few. Why don't we just get rid of all food inspection while we're at it? Maybe we shouldn't buy meat if we can't afford to go to the hospital after eating a bad burger or contaminated chicken.

  • The purpose of the commerce clause in the constitution, was to prevent the states from putting up tariff barriers to interstate trade, not to provide a pretext for the federal government to interfere in anything and everything we do. The feds have proved conclusively in case after case, that they can't be trusted with this power. The clause should be removed by amendment, and replaced with a statement that simply prohibits the states from taxing interstate commerce.

    -jcr

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:10PM (#24814585)

    The phrase has also been used in reference to mad cow disease. More than 30 countries banned beef imports from Canada after one of Albertan farmer Marwyn Peaster's cattle tested positive for the illness. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, in frustration over the situation, said that any "self-respecting rancher would have shot, shovelled and shut up"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting,_shoveling,_and_shutting_up

  • The USDA may have the power to interfere with a producer in the United States, but they can't keep the importers and distributors in other countries from doing whatever they feel is appropriate to protect their customers and their business.

    -jcr

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pembo13 (770295)
      Well some countries seem hell bent on importing the USA beef against the wishes of their citizens. So it is possible (but not proven) that the same forces preventing small supplies from doing 100% testing will smooth the way for the 1% tested beef to be sold to those countries.
  • 5/15/06 [uiuc.edu]

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. The U.S. Agriculture Departments mad cow disease-testing program is wholly inadequate and the agencys refusal to let processors do their own testing further undercuts the safety of American beef, a University of Illinois scholar writes.

    AFAIK, the available tests are not reliable, partly due to the fact that the cows are too young to produce meaningful test results, but that might be outdated info.

  • [The "rapid" BSE test in question] can detect abnormal prions only if they exist in a relatively high concentration, and abnormal prions typically reach detectable concentrations only two to three months before an animal exhibits observable symptoms. The incubation period for BSE (i.e., from infection to observable symptoms) is two to eight yearsâ"the average being five yearsâ"and cattle younger than thirty months are rarely symptomatic. Because most cattle for slaughter in the United States go to market before they are twenty-four months old, it is unlikely that the rapid BSE test will detect the disease. In light of the rapid BSE testâ(TM)s limited efficacy, USDA believes that the routine use of the test on âoeclinically normal young cattle is not practical[], offers no food safety value,â is âoelikely [to] produce false negative resultsâ and is âoemeaningful and reliable . . . when used for surveillance purposes on . . . animals exhibiting some type of clinical abnormality that could be consistent with BSEâ (e.g., cattle that cannot stand or walk, show signs of neurological disorders or die from an unknown cause).

    From the court's opinion PDF in TFA. I'm inclined to agree with the USDA here. The only way this test is going to pop positive on a cow that isn't already exhibiting symptoms but is infected, is if that cow is in that tiny window of being infected for greater than 21 months, AND 3 months from symptomatic concentration levels. Earlier and it won't detect the prions (and the "100%" BSE free beef goes out and gives someone CJD, destroying all confidence in their current and, possibly, future assurances);

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SirLurksAlot (1169039)

      That's my read, am I missing something?

      Yes, you forgot to include an outraged knee-jerk response like everyone else (who probably didn't bother to read TFA) in this conversation :-P. Seriously though, I'm surprised no one else thought this through. If proper test procedures are in place and a sufficiently large sample is taken there is no good reason for 100% coverage except to try to gain marketing leverage. If everyone was forced to perform 100% test coverage we would definitely see an increase in the

  • The important question is this:

    The government requires the testing of a certain percentage, so they provide the test packs for this percentage. Now, if the ruling prevents the government from paying for more packs than required under its own regulations, it's not a problem. The company feels like it wants to test more than the amount the government requires? Fine, it should get or make its own test packs, test 100%, pass that cost on to customers, and be sure to market and advertise their products as the sa

    • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld&gmail,com> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:40PM (#24814835) Homepage
      BUT, if the ruling prevents TESTING (not the government providing test kits), it is a fscked up ruling and someone is a total numbskull for making such a ruling.

      It's sort of inbetween; the exporter wants to buy their own BSE test kits, but the USDA regulates who they can be sold to, and won't grant the exporter permission to get them. I think the USDA is right in this situation, they're tasked with monitoring BSE, and the test the exporter wants to use is pretty much useless:

      There are several types of BSE tests available; the most common--and the one at issue here--is the immunoassay, or "rapid," BSE test.3 See CX-3, at 89-91. The rapid BSE test, 7 is then treated with an antibody that binds to any abnormal prion. Id. By measuring the amount of any antibody that binds, the presence of BSE can be determined in a matter of hours. See id. at 90. however, has limitations. It can detect abnormal prions only if they exist in a relatively high concentration, id. at 91, and abnormal prions typically reach detectable concentrations only two to three months before an animal exhibits observable symptoms. See Declaration of Byron Rippke 9 (Sept. 12, 2006). The incubation period for BSE (i.e., from infection to observable symptoms) is two to eight years--the average being five years--and cattle younger than thirty months are rarely symptomatic. Ferguson Decl. 5. Because most cattle for slaughter in the United States go to market before they are twenty-four months old, it is unlikely that the rapid BSE test will detect the disease. Id. In light of the rapid BSE test's limited efficacy, USDA believes that the routine use of the test on "clinically normal young cattle is not practical[], offers no food safety value," is "likely [to] produce false negative results" and is "meaningful and reliable . . . when used for surveillance purposes on . . . animals exhibiting some type of clinical abnormality that could be consistent with BSE" (e.g., cattle that cannot stand or walk, show signs of neurological disorders or die from an unknown cause). Ferguson Decl. 6.

  • by William Ager (1157031) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @08:28PM (#24814753)
    I've seen this story pop up in several places, and it seemed too absurd to be true, so I skimmed through the actual decision.

    Unsurprisingly, it is too absurd to be true, and does appear to be very misrepresented. The USDA actually has a reasonable argument against allowing testing for marketing purposes, though the argument also seems to call into question their own testing program.

    Essentially, the USDA claims that the rapid testing method the packer wants to use is only able to detect the disease after its incubation period, right before symptoms start to appear in living cows. Since the incubation period is several years, and most cows are slaughtered before they are two years old, the USDA claims that testing 100% of young cows without symptoms wouldn't be useful, and would give inaccurate results. If such results, with possible false negatives, were to be used for marketing, they could end up making all testing in the US look bad, as it could be found that "tested" beef was actually contaminated.

    What I don't understand, however, is why the incubation time vs. slaughtering age argument doesn't call into question the USDA's entire testing regime. What is the point of testing 1% of cows with a test that isn't going to work in most cases anyway?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by the_B0fh (208483)

      What I don't understand, however, is why the incubation time vs. slaughtering age argument doesn't call into question the USDA's entire testing regime. What is the point of testing 1% of cows with a test that isn't going to work in most cases anyway?

      See also: Airport security theater

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @09:22PM (#24815073)

    Here's the thing, if a single cow shows evidence of BSE, many countries stop importing our beef for a long period of time.

    So you want to test 35,000,000 cows a year? If the test is 99.999999% accurate, it'll produce 35 false positives each year. And countries are going to stop importing our beef on those false positives.

    On top of that, some portion of cows are going to test as positive (even accurately) spontaneously. BSE had to start somewhere, there's no reason that even if we wipe it out in cows it can't show up again. And we'll lose sales based upon those too.

    So yeah, it's an effort to keep from having positive results. But with 1% testing, we can apprently tell that there currently isn't a higher level of BSE in cows in the US than there has ever been. So the number of lives lost to BSE from cows isn't going to be any different than it has been in the past. And it hasn't seemed to be a problem before.

    As to the idea that testing will help us internationally, well, there's nothing forcing the South Koreas to buy our beef right now, and they're still buying it. There's no reason I can see to think that sales will go up further in that country with more testing.

    I'm not sure why Americans act like we have the worst problem with this in the world. It has not been legal to feed cow parts to cows (which can lead to spread of prion-based diseases) for my entire life. This is unlike Canada, for example where it was only banned a few years back based upon BSE fears.

    • So you want to test 35,000,000 cows a year? If the test is 99.999999% accurate, it'll produce 35 false positives each year. And countries are going to stop importing our beef on those false positives.

      You're (rather idiotically) assuming that a positive test wouldn't be followed up with further testing, or even just a repeat test.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by YesIAmAScript (886271)

        That depends on the test. Some test return false positives because the tests check for a marker that although strongly follows the incidence of the malady/item you are testing for but can also be present without the actual malady/item. An example is the guy who was accused of having a bottle of GHB, because the test said so. But the bottle was actually full of soap (even labeled as such), and that "GHB" test produces positive tests when run on soap (not detergent, which further muddied the issue). They coul

  • The USDA's job has, and always will be to protect the interests of the largest agriculture companies.

    Sometimes that means doing a few BSE tests to convince the population their beef is safe. Sometimes it's running small meat processors out of business by flat out refusing to have the USDA send inspectors out to the plant (Operating without one would be illegal). Not too long ago they engaged in a campaign of banning all Canadian Beef after a single case of mad cow was discovered in an animal that never
  • by Legion303 (97901) on Saturday August 30, 2008 @10:27PM (#24815445) Homepage

    "under a 1913 law, test kits that are used only after an animal is killed still constitute 'diagnosis' and 'treatment'"

    "Quick, man, that cow is stone dead! Treat it!"

    "There is no treatment for death, sir."

    (cow explodes; clip of Ladies' Auxiliary Club applauding)

  • by DragonTHC (208439) <Dragon@gamerslas ... .com minus berry> on Saturday August 30, 2008 @11:28PM (#24815763) Homepage Journal

    First, the FDA is violating its charter. They're not allowing a company to test its product for a disease that, if present, will kill anyone who consumes it.

    The FDA doesn't really have a choice in the long run. Their sole purpose for existing is to keep our food and medicines safe for human consumption. This is a counter-intuitive action.

When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder. -- James H. Boren

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