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From: TSS ()
Subject: Re: MAD COW TISSUE SAMPLING FOR TESTING CONSISTS OF USDA CERTIFIED CATTLE
Date: February 17, 2007 at 7:18 pm PST

In Reply to: Re: MAD COW TISSUE SAMPLING FOR TESTING CONSISTS OF USDA CERTIFIED CATTLE posted by TSS on February 17, 2007 at 12:05 pm:

From: TSS
Subject: USDA, Packer Clash: BSE Tests
Date: November 9, 2006 at 6:53 am PST

USDA, Packer Clash: BSE Tests
Mon Nov 6, 2006

-Packer Continues to Operate; Waiting to Hear about Charges

By Chris Clayton
DTN Staff Reporter
http://agnews.dtn.com/index.cfm

MARICOPA, Ariz. (DTN) --- Guns drawn, more than 30 federal agents raided Roland Farabee's business last July, handcuffing workers and customers, and then seizing an extensive amount of paperwork from the office.

The alleged crime was testing cattle that were being processed as food for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease.

Federal authorities confiscated records on more than 11,500 cattle tested at Farabee Processing from June 2004 until July 27 when federal agents executed the search warrant at the small packing plant just south of the Phoenix metro area. Farabee said he couldn't list all of the government agencies that showed up, ranging from the FBI to the local tribal police.

"You name it, they had a group here," he said. "They had their guns drawn, coming in the front door and grabbing employees, handcuffing people, just a fiasco. And all they had to do was come in and talk to me because were under federal inspection all the time. They wanted to come in and make a statement and put that fear into us that they were the government."

Farabee, 55, has 15 employees at his processing facility, including his son and son-in-law. Farabee has operated his own meat processing business for 23 years and owned the Maricopa facility since 2000. The plant slaughters about 50 to 70 head of cattle a week.

Farabee's plant primarily processes sickly dairy cattle that larger meatpacking plants decline to accept. He also does some partial rendering of deadstock, removing dead veal calves or cows from dairy operations. In spring 2004, Farabee Processing was one of thousands of packing plants and rendering operations nationally that signed contracts with USDA to test cattle for BSE. The goal of the enhanced surveillance program was to determine the prevalence of BSE nationally and help re-establish international confidence in U.S. beef.

A fatal disease, BSE has been found in three cattle in the United States, including one that was initially from Canada. The disease, which attacks the central nervous system, has been shown to cause variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease, which has killed 195 people worldwide, of which more than 160 came from Great Britain.

Officials raided Farabee's business for allegedly submitting cattle brain samples for BSE testing fraudulently. No charges has been filed against Farabee, but federal authorities have accused him in interviews of committing fraud by receiving $150 per head for test samples that didn't fit the USDA's enhanced surveillance program. Federal prosecutors have told Farabee he may have received as much as $500,000 for testing cattle that should not have been tested, Farabee said.

Farabee claims no one at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Food Safety and Inspection Service or the Agricultural Marketing Service ever questioned the plant's testing work even though all three agencies had sent staff to review Farabee's sample collection over the two years of the enhanced surveillance program.

"If anything, they told us we had a good program," Farabee said. "The thing is I would have told them the same thing without the guns drawn, without the handcuffs and without having 30 people running around the plant."

Jim Rogers, a spokesman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Washington, D.C., said he could not comment on the raid of Farabee's business or if there were other plants under investigation that were involved in the enhanced surveillance program.

"Sorry about that, it's all DoJ (Department of Justice)," Rogers said. "It's in their hands."

Officials with the USDA Office of Inspector General also declined to comment. A field agent from the OIG's office initiated the search warrant.

Farabee continues to operate his plant while waiting to see if federal prosecutors charge him with a crime. Since the enhanced surveillance program has ended, Farabee's plant has sent about a handful of test samples to USDA, primarily from cattle that have showed signs of a central nervous disorder.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Phoenix said Thursday he was unaware of the case. As of Friday afternoon, the U.S. Attorney's office had not provided any information to DTN on the investigation.

According to a OIG report on BSE testing, one of the problems in the program was the lack of consistency in the negotiated prices for samples. Farabee said the cost of testing helped pay for overhead at the plant and it worked well for him. Earlier this year, Farabee offered to test his slaughter cattle for tuberculosis at no charge for the USDA after some feedlot cattle in the area suffered outbreaks and local USDA officials ran out of money to pay for the testing. After the raid, Farabee said he would test his cattle for BSE at no charge if that's what USDA wanted. They turned down his offer.

About 7,600 brain samples Farabee submitted under the testing program came from deadstock, non-ambulatory cattle or cattle that failed ante-mortem inspections by federal inspectors at other plants and were sent to Farabee's facility for processing.

Another 3,900 brain samples came from cattle that physically qualified as being processed for human consumption. The tests on those cattle have caused federal authorities to claim Farabee submitted those samples fraudulently to collect the $150 per-head fee he received under the federal contract with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

"Those are the ones they didn't give me permission to do," Farabee said.

In a report last March on the enhanced surveillance program, USDA officials stated about 85 percent of their BSE tests at that time came from down or dead animals. Of 647,045 tests by from June 2004 to March 2006, there were 32,560 that came from meatpacking plants in which the meat was going toward human consumption.

USDA is now a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a Kansas meatpacker, Creekstone Premium Farms, because USDA would not allow the plant to test all of its slaughter cattle for BSE. Creekstone wants to test primarily to restore market confidence in U.S. beef overseas. USDA officials have stated that only USDA has the authority to allow testing for disease surveillance. USDA officials also maintain there is no scientific basis for Creekstone's testing because the cattle are healthy and too young to show signs of the disease.

Farabee Processing only slaughters sickly cows, however. Under USDA guidelines, "signs" of BSE can range from being dead or non-ambulatory to more vague symptoms such as stupor apprehension, blindness, abnormal gate, awkward coordination, underweight, injuries that could be related to the central nervous system or a simple decrease of milk yield.

"I only slaughter sickly animals," Farabee said. "I only have high-pathology cattle."

While Farabee understood USDA wanted to slaughter "high-risk" animals, he said once the testing began USDA said they only wanted samples from the downers or deadstock.

"I told our inspector at the time I don't understand that," he said. "The animals we have here, some of them may walk but not weave when the inspector is watching them, but they have some type of problem."

The Inspector General's office said last January that USDA was not ensuring that cattle had been turned away from slaughtering plants because of disease or downer status were being tested. The OIG said more cattle that were "exhibiting symptoms not consistent with BSE" should be tested, and the clinical signs of those animals should be documented. USDA was underestimating the size of the high-risk population for BSE, according to the OIG.

Farabee initially didn't submit samples from the food-processing side of his business, but after about three months in the testing program, he decided to send in samples from almost every cow moving through his plant.

"I just feel like it was something that needed to be done," he said. "It just seemed this was ridiculous. These were the animals that we needed to be testing -- the ones people were eating."

The problem with the testing program was that it is misleading, Farabee said. The program focused on deadstock that would not make it into the food supply. By targeting Farabee's plant, the federal government also acknowledges that it was not interested in finding BSE in cattle that could go into the food chain, Farabee said.

"Why wouldn't they spend all that money on animals that were going into the food chain instead of these ones that weren't?" Farabee said.

In finding prevalence, testing a higher portion of deadstock does make sense. Deadstock and downers show the highest levels of BSE infectivity. In the European Union, more than 50 percent of BSE cases come from downers or cattle not fit for human consumption.

Last January, even as federal officials were opening their investigation into his facility, APHIS veterinarians contacted Farabee to see if he wanted to participate in the project to test 20,000 "healthy" slaughter animals, which became part of the BSE program. Farabee declined because he said his cattle generally shouldn't be considered part of the healthy slaughter population.

"The big problem I had with the whole program is I'm a high-pathology plant," Farabee said. "We do nothing but dairy cows that have major problems. They are not your good cows that go to the big plant."

Felicia Nestor, senior policy analyst with the Food and Water Watch, said it's a classic example of federal officials using overkill on a small-business person when there are far greater allegations of fleecing the federal government that never get such government heavy-handedness.

"This is especially true when we've had all of this contract abuse going on in Iraq," Nestor said. "It's really minimal compared to some of these other things."

Nestor has worked over the past few years with federal inspectors at the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service on problems with rules and restrictions that they perceive has limited their ability to effectively inspect meatpacking plants.

Nestor noted that outside scientists and consumer advocates have repeatedly commented to USDA officials that the department is not doing enough testing or targeting enough of the animals going into the food supply.

"You would think they would be happy he did that testing," Nestor said.

Farabee also questions the timing of the raid on his facility. He said federal investigators started suspecting he was sending samples from slaughter animals as far back as October 2005. But his facility was raided July 27, the day Japan officially reinstated beef imports from the U.S. It was also just a week after the USDA announced the department would reduce its testing for BSE to 40,000 samples a year.

"If that doesn't tell you the only reason they did the testing, nothing else does," Farabee said.

USDA officials said last July they were reducing testing levels because they had exceeded their testing goals under the enhanced surveillance program. USDA officials also indicated confidence that there were just a minimal number of BSE cases in the nation's cattle herd.

Chris Clayton can be reached at chris.clayton@dtn.com


tss






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