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From: TSS ()
Subject: TEXAS Mad cow records spotty
Date: November 1, 2005 at 7:26 pm PST

Mad cow records spotty

Most in sick cattle's herd were slaughtered before inquiry began

09:27 PM CST on Tuesday, November 1, 2005

By KATIE FAIRBANK / The Dallas Morning News

Researchers hunting the herd linked to the first U.S. case of mad cow disease found that most of the animals were slaughtered, and possibly in the human food supply, even before the government inquiry began.

The federal and state governments closed an investigation into the infected cow, which was raised at an unidentified Texas ranch, in August.

But The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday obtained details about the search for the 413 cows and calves under a Texas open records request. About 350 of the cows, or roughly 85 percent, were sent for slaughter.

The reports, compiled for the Texas Animal Health Commission by a government employee, demonstrate how problematic it was to track the herd mates and progeny of the diseased cow.
Mad cow disease: What you need to know
The investigators' searches for feed records as well as "animals of interest" went back years, but many records were no longer available. The state wound up relying on its own data in the county between 1990 and 1994 to get a snapshot of the herd.

"If it were not for our brucellosis information and database, we would have had extraordinary difficulty in conducting this investigation," said Dr. Max Coats, deputy director for animal health programs at the Texas Animal Health Commission.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease in cows and other animals that can be passed on to humans.

Other problems also cropped up during the investigation. The cattle from the farm often arrived at markets without any identification tags and were subsequently retagged. Also, various family members other than the primary owners regularly sold cows from the farm, making them difficult to trace.

"We would have liked for the record-keeping to have been better," said Dr. Coats. "Some producers have flawless records. Others know they had 14 cows last year, and they don't know whose they were."

Inspectors had to trace 213 calves in their hunt to find two that were recently born to the diseased cow. They never were able to specifically identify the two calves but did say that 208 went into feed and slaughter channels, entering the food supply. Four more probably did. One calf was untraceable.

"If they're fairly confident that the group they identified as the progeny was complete and if nearly all of them were slaughtered, chances are the progeny was eaten by a human being," said Tom McGarity, a professor of food safety law at the University of Texas School of Law and president of the Center for Progressive Regulation.

Those details give him pause, he said. While mad cow is not necessarily transmitted to offspring, it is "quite possible that a mad cow got in the food supply."

Mad cow disease is associated with a chronic brain-wasting disease in humans called new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob. An infection can smolder for years before the patient shows symptoms.

Dr. Coats and Jim Rogers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said there should be no fear of mad cow entering the human food supply.

Mr. Rogers said regulations keep any possibly diseased cow out of the system. Dr. Coats said that a veterinarian inspects cattle before slaughter and that organs are inspected later to ensure sick animals are not made into food.

"I'm very comfortable with our protection for the animal feed and the food supply," Dr. Coats said.

The government's investigation this summer tried to trace 200 adult cows and determined that 143 were slaughtered, two were alive, 34 were presumed dead and one was known to be dead. Twenty were untraceable.

The inquiry was unable to determine how the 12-year-old Brahman cow was infected.

In an epidemiology report dated July 4, the owner said the cow was marketed because of its "poor body condition." The owner said the cow had "always been an excitable animal and had fallen while she was being loaded to go to the market, but this was not unusual behavior for her."

The cow was sold through a livestock sale on Nov. 11 and transported to a packing plant, where it and another were found dead on the truck. They were transported to a pet food plant later that day and sampled for mad cow testing.

Officials say they believe the cow was positive for the disease because it ate contaminated feed before the U.S. banned ground-up cattle remains in cattle feed. The government says the only certain way the disease is spread is through eating brain and other nerve tissue from infected cows.

Unable to find a cause or to definitively find some of the cow's herd or offspring, officials say the investigation was hampered by inadequate record-keeping. They caution that the national system to trace animal movements needs to be upgraded to make it similar to how FedEx tracks packages.

With 14 million cattle in Texas alone, a more efficient system is necessary, insiders say.

"Right now we rely on tags and paper tracking. In the future, we'd like to move to a database system in which the animals are tracked through a computer or other technologies," said Mr. Rogers of the USDA.



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