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From: TSS ()
Subject: Mad-Cow Rule Breaches By Meat Packers Are Noted WSJ
Date: August 19, 2005 at 8:57 am PST


Mad-Cow Rule Breaches
By Meat Packers Are Noted

By BILL TOMSON
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
August 19, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Federal documents show U.S. meat packers sometimes failed to follow procedures to prevent the spread of mad-cow disease, including leaving spinal cords in cattle, miscalculating cattle ages and not sanitizing equipment.

Most of the 1,036 "noncompliance records" released by the Department of Agriculture appear to show record-keeping or other paperwork infractions.

And a violation recorded Aug. 3, 2004, said a USDA inspector stopped plant operations after watching employees fail to remove spinal cords from carcasses. Spinal cords are thought to carry the mad-cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The inspector said as a result the facility pledged to retain more than 500 carcasses and inspect them. A "similar" violation for the same establishment had been written up about three months earlier, the report said.

No company's name could be seen on the document that had sections blacked out, but it was accompanied by a letter from Tyson Fresh Meats Inc., a unit of Tyson Foods Inc. Tyson wrote that employees who should have been removing spinal cords were chastised for "poor work performance." Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesman, said, "We view this particular incident as more of a procedural issue than a food-safety concern because of the additional measures we take after this point in the production process to make sure nervous-system materials don't enter the food supply."

An unrelated violation said a factory wasn't correctly determining cattle ages. An inspector said when he tried to verify records that four cattle were younger than 30 months, he found three of the animals were older.

USDA maintains that, for the most part, mad-cow infection can only be found in cattle 30 months and older so most tissue capable of carrying the disease -- called specified risk material, or SRM -- only needs to be removed from older animals. If an animal is younger, those parts don't need to be removed. Some parts, such as tonsils and distal ileum, are considered SRM in cattle of all ages and must be removed.

After the first case of mad-cow disease was found in the U.S. in December 2003, USDA began requiring the removal of spinal-cord, brain and other tissues from older cattle. Several other food-safety rules were implemented, including a ban on "downer" or dead animals from the food supply. Humans are believed to be susceptible to the disease through consumption of some beef products if they contain infected tissue.

A slaughterhouse, owned by Smithfield Foods Inc. subsidiary Moyer Packing Co., was written up July 15, 2004, for mishandling an animal that was dead-on-arrival and slated to be tested in USDA's federal BSE surveillance program. The program focuses on downer cattle that are too sick or injured to walk or cattle that died before slaughter. USDA considers those cattle more likely to be infected. The USDA inspector said he observed "abdominal fluids and tissues" from the dead animals "scattered throughout the unloading and livestock scale areas."

Moyer said in a response letter to USDA that the "entire affected area ... was hosed with high-pressure water and debris were removed." Smithfield spokesman Jerry Hostetter said: "The dead animal in question was nowhere near a food-production or processing area. It was in the cattle receiving yards ... prior to being taken into the plant. No parts of the animal got anywhere near the food supply."

Write to Bill Tomson at bill.tomson@osterdowjones.com

http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB112440337073117094,00.html?mod=djemHL

TSS




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