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From: TSS ()
Subject: Mad cow specifics still scarce Officials cite privacy in withholding data on animal with Texas ties
Date: August 29, 2005 at 8:57 am PST

Mad cow specifics still scarce
Officials cite privacy in withholding data on animal with Texas ties


12:00 AM CDT on Monday, August 29, 2005

By KATIE FAIRBANK / The Dallas Morning News


Ten months after a cow suffering from brain-wasting mad cow disease was found dead on arrival at a Texas slaughterhouse, a mystery endures for the public about the animal's ranch and owners.

Both the Texas Animal Health Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have declined to release information that would identify where the cow was raised.

"We don't release specific locations," said Jim Rogers, a spokesman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "It's just privacy information. Texas is as close as we're getting."

The diseased cow, sold through a livestock market last November, died before it was taken to the slaughterhouse.

The animal was shipped to a pet food plant in Waco, which took brain samples for testing. The carcass was burned.

Since then, the government has quarantined and tested "animals of interest" from the cow's herd and offspring.

The agency is expected to soon release results of that investigation. But no information will be forthcoming about where the cow was raised at that news conference.

"I don't think you ever will get that information from USDA," said John McBride, spokesman for the Livestock Marketing Association.

The Texas Animal Health Commission, tasked with protecting livestock from infectious disease, has challenged formal requests for details about the ranch and herd from The Dallas Morning News and other news organizations.

Gene Snelson, general counsel for the agency, asked the state attorney general's office whether the information could be withheld from the press for several reasons:

• Some of the documents explain how to respond to an animal struck with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as mad cow disease, and were meant for internal use only.

• An infected cow could be part of a criminal or terrorist investigation.

• The herd owner has concerns.

"The owner has concerns that the release of his name could negatively impact the business of selling cattle as well as constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy," Mr. Snelson wrote.

Thomas Kelley with the attorney general's office said a ruling would be made next month on whether the information must be released.

Telephone messages left with the Texas Animal Health Commission requesting comment were not returned.

"You are going to ruin someone's life and livelihood," said a woman who answered the telephone at the public information office for the agency on Friday.


Previous reactions

Fears that the public will react negatively to the disease are based on an outbreak in the United Kingdom that devastated that country's cattle industry and killed 150 people.

The disease can spread to humans who eat infected brain and spinal cord tissue in a variant known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The industry also took a financial hit two years ago when a diseased Canadian-born dairy cow found in Washington state closed markets around the world to U.S. beef.

"With regards to our programs, we feel that that is protected information, and we don't typically release that for this case or for any of our programs for that matter," Dr. John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for the USDA's APHIS, said at a news conference soon after the public was told about the cow.


"As far as the location of the herd, we're not releasing that information."


Texas has a mythological history based on cowboys and cattle, and the state still has a huge economic investment in beef.


More than 16 percent of all cattle in the nation are raised in the state, or about 5.4 million beef cows at the beginning of the year, according to the USDA.


But Dr. Clifford said that knowing where the cow lived for 12 years doesn't add to the investigation.

"We really don't feel this type of information has any additional value to the follow-up and epidemiology for this case," he said.

But others within the industry say that when a test comes back positive "we can understand the release of location or whatever," Mr. McBride said.

Disclosure

Tom McGarity, a professor of food safety law at the University of Texas Law School and president of the Center for Progressive Regulation, argues that people should be told where the diseased cow was raised.

"A reasonable member of the public would be disinclined to trust the USDA to do their job right," he said.

"It won't do for the USDA and the cattle industry to say, 'Trust us, we're on this.'

"In fact, they historically haven't tried hard to find these cows. The public could rightly conclude that they have to look out for themselves."

E-mail kfairbank@dallasnews.com

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/DN-madcow_29bus.ART0.State.Edition2.4517cb1.html

TSS




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