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From: TSS (
Date: August 11, 2004 at 9:33 am PST

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 2004 11:32:30 -0500
From: "Terry S. Singeltary Sr."
Reply-To: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

######## Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy #########

No mad cow results for nearly 500 cows

By Steve Mitchell
United Press International
Published 8/11/2004 11:23 AM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture failed
to test for mad cow disease or collect the correct portion of the brain
on nearly 500 suspect cows over the past two years -- including some in
categories considered most likely to be infected -- according to agency
records obtained by United Press International.

The testing problems mean it may never be known with certainty whether
these animals were infected with the deadly disease. Department
officials said these animals were not included in the agency's final
tally of mad cow tests, but the records, obtained by UPI under the
Freedom of Information Act, indicate at least some of them were counted.

The USDA Inspector General, in a report made public last month, rebuked
the agency for a slew of problems in its mad cow surveillance plan that
could have reduced the chances of finding a positive case in U.S. herds.
The only confirmed case of the disease in the United States is a cow
that tested positive last December in Washington state.

Consumer groups say the untested cows are evidence of further problems
with the USDA's surveillance plan.

"This adds to the clear documentation in the Inspector General's report
that the program is in shambles, from its design to its implementation
to its record keeping," Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public
Citizen's Health Research Group in Washington told UPI.

Lurie testified about problems with the USDA's surveillance plan at a
congressional hearing last month.

In total, 486 animals in 2002 and 2003 went untested or the wrong
portion of their brain was collected, according to the USDA documents.
The mad cow pathogen accumulates in a specific region of the brain
called the obex.

More than 200 of the animals were not tested at all. Almost all of the
rest had the wrong part of their brain sent to the USDA's National
Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, that conducts mad cow
tests, with a few unable to be tested because the sample was unsuitable.

"Somebody must be asleep at the switch if they can get this kind of data
in their database and not launch some kind of investigation," Lurie
said. "It suggests inappropriate collection of samples and failure to
test even those samples that were collected, on top of the failure to
test categories of animals USDA told the American public it was testing."

USDA spokeswoman Julie Quick told UPI, "None of those (untested animals
or ones with the wrong portion of the brain collected) were counted in
official sampling."

In addition, Quick said, the USDA has safeguards in place to prevent
possibly infected meat products from reaching consumers.

The concern is humans can contract a fatal brain disorder called variant
Creutzfeldt Jakob disease from eating beef products contaminated with
the mad cow agent.

The Inspector General's report faulted the agency for failing to install
screening procedures to ensure it gets access to the cows most likely to
be infected with the deadly disease. This includes those that test
negative for rabies and those with signs of a disorder of the brain or
central nervous system, also known as CNS cows.

The USDA's testing records indicate even when the agency obtained
samples from these animals, many went untested or the wrong region of
the brain was collected.

In 2002, four CNS cows and 11 rabies-negative cows were not tested or
the wrong part of the brain was collected. In 2003, the testing problems
appeared to increase, occurring with 10 CNS cows and 38 rabies-negative

Nearly all of these animals were older than 30 months -- many were 6 to
8 years old -- which puts them in an age range most likely to test
positive if they were infected. The USDA's current surveillance plan
focuses almost exclusively on animals in this age range because they are
old enough for the slow-incubating disease to have reached detectable
levels if they are infected.

In addition to the CNS and rabies negative cows, the 486 untested and
incorrectly sampled animals included other risky groups, including 310
downers -- those unable to stand -- 79 dead, eight sick and five
condemned. About 182 of the animals were 30 months of age or older, with
many of them as old as 8 years.

Quick said the explanation for the untested animals is "most likely the
sample was autolyzed (deteriorated) and we weren't able to run a sample,
so we wouldn't count that."

The type of mad cow test used by the USDA does not work well with
autolyzed samples, but another type of test called Western blot, which
is commonly used in Europe and Japan, can yield accurate results with
degraded tissue samples.

In the cases where the wrong brain region was collected, the agency ran
a test "in the event that it might have contained some of the correct
tissue," Quick said. These samples were "fully expected" to be negative
because the sample was not from the correct part of the brain and thus
they were not included in the official tally, she said.

However, it would have been necessary to include some of the untested
animals in order to arrive at the USDA's final tally of 19,990 animals
tested in fiscal year 2002, as stated in a Jan. 15, 2003, news release.

The USDA data obtained by UPI consists of 20,132 mad cow tests conducted
in 2002. Subtracting the 209 animals not tested or with the wrong brain
region collected that year drops the total to 19,923, or 67 less than
the total given by USDA Secretary Ann Veneman. A comparable analysis is
not possible for 2003 because UPI only has records for the first 10
months of that year.

Michael Hansen, a biologist and senior research associate with Consumers
Union, the watchdog group in Yonkers, N.Y., called the USDA's testing
problems with the high-risk CNS and rabies-negative cows "outrageous"
and said "it raises some serious questions" about the agency's
surveillance program.

"We'll have to wait and see in the next couple of months what the final
Inspector General's report says and whether some of the problems with
sampling are ever going to get cleared up," Hansen told UPI.

Although UPI initially received the testing records last January, the
USDA refused to release a key that would help decipher the meaning of
several obscure codes and acronyms. After several more months of
requests to obtain the key from both the Freedom of Information Office
and the agency's Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, the USDA
finally released the key in late May, but insisted it was not legally
required to do so.

Several of the 486 animal tests showed peculiar results. Nineteen
rabies-negative animals from various unnamed facilities in New York all
went untested on the same day, June 13, 2003. "Other" was listed under
the column for results of a histopathology screening -- a test that
cannot diagnose mad cow disease conclusively, but can indicate
abnormalities consistent with the disease.

The USDA has not explained what "other" means. The key provided to UPI
says "other" means "other."

It was unusual, in the data provided to UPI, to have any results listed
under the histopathology, as this column is blank for most of the 35,000
animals contained in the records obtained by UPI.

"See comments" was listed in the histopathology column for another
rabies-negative animal that went untested, but the USDA did not include
any comments in the records.

On Feb. 24, 2003, a rabies-negative cow from an unnamed Kansas facility
could not be tested accurately because the wrong portion of its brain
had been collected. The undefined description "inflammatory" was listed
under histopathology.

On average, 22 animals per month went untested or the wrong portion of
the brain was collected, but some months were worse than others. In
July, 2002, these problems occurred with 106 cows.

Certain dates and companies appear repeatedly. On one day, July 25,
2002, 48 downers from Batlar Enterprises in Wisconsin were not tested.
Earlier that month, 24 downers from two plants in California were not

A couple of weeks later, on Aug. 5, 2002, 17 downers from Midway Meats
in Washington state -- which processed meat from the infected cow in
December -- went untested. The next month, on Sept. 5, 2002, 20 dead
animals from ETI in Georgia were not tested.

"When you look at all that, then how do you expect the American consumer
to have any confidence in this, or our trading partners?" Lester
Friedlander, a former USDA veterinarian, told UPI.

More than 60 countries have closed their borders to U.S. beef due to the
December mad cow case.

"Where are the Senate and congressional Agriculture committees? How come
they don't say anything?" Friedlander asked.

He also questioned how the untested animals and the repeated collection
of the wrong brain region went unnoticed at the USDA.

"Somebody (there) should've caught on, but instead it has to be somebody
from UPI under the Freedom of Information Act," Friedlander said. "How
did it get by so many people?"


Steve Mitchell is UPI's Medical Correspondent. E-mail

Copyright © 2001-2004 United Press International


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