Follow Ups | Post Followup | Back to Discussion Board | VegSource
See spam or
inappropriate posts?
Please let us know.

From: TSS (
Date: January 31, 2005 at 6:06 am PST

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2005 15:44:13 -0600
From: "Terry S. Singeltary Sr."
Reply-To: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

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

Mad cow defenses called into question

Posted on Sun, Jan. 30, 2005


The Kansas City Star

HATFIELD, Mo.  If the Bush administration gets its way, beef prices
will drop this spring, right about the time America's carnivores fire up
their barbecue grills.

That is when the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to lift a ban on
importing live Canadian cattle that was sparked by a single case of mad
cow disease in 2003.

Citing artificially high beef prices, meatpackers and free-traders
support reopening the border in March. Some cattlemen and food-safety
lobbyists oppose it, especially now that two mad cow cases have been
reported in Canada in recent weeks.

But Dario Cappucci, a former USDA veterinarian-turned-Missouri
cattleman, has his own reasons for opposing the border's reopening  26
of them to be exact  all grazing contentedly on his 480-acre farm in
northwest Missouri.

It is a mystery herd that Cappucci said is proof that the U.S. ear-tag
and health-certificate system for tracking live cattle is flawed. He
says the government keeps better track of used cars than live cattle.

USDA and Canadian authorities say that proposed safeguards to strengthen
the tracking of Canadian cattle are highly reliable. The USDA's goal is
to have that system in place by March. Also, the USDA says it will
launch a national animal identification system that will allow it to
locate any of the 100-million-plus head of cattle in the United States
at any time.

But the new tracking system for Canadian cattle is not in place, and
implementing the national ID system is about two years away. Many
regulators, cattlemen and consumer groups told The Kansas City Star that
those safeguards still could be circumvented.

Cappucci's complaints sparked state and federal investigations,
resulting in citations against the principals in the case  including
Cappucci. Cappucci said he ultimately traced his cattle to a Canadian
health certificate that suggested some of his herd could have originated
in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This is important to the public in terms of avoiding mad cow disease,
Cappucci said.

When it comes to tracking mad cows, source verification is what it's
all about, said James Leazenby, a Bethany veterinarian who helped
Cappucci trace the cattle and who said he knew of other cases where the
system was manipulated.

Federal regulators and a spokesman for the meatpacking industry,
however, said that consumers and cattlemen should not worry about bovine
spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease. The
progressive, incurable malady in cattle has been linked to
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

The mad cow scare resonated worldwide in the 1980s. About 140 people in
the United Kingdom died after eating contaminated meat. Millions of
cattle had to be destroyed. And there is concern that if mad cow ever
got loose in the United States, the cattle industry could lose billions
of dollars.

But there never has been a proven case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob in the
United States linked to cattle.

Jumping the border

The Cappucci case illustrates how difficult it can be to track cattle
under the current system, some experts say.

Cappucci, a veterinarian who also is trained in public health and
epidemiology, bought 26 head of bred heifers in Lamoni, Iowa. Cappucci
said the seller told him they had been imported from Canada.

But Cappucci said that when the heifers were delivered to his farm in
nearby Hatfield in January 2003  before the border was closed in May 
he wasn't sure they were the same cattle he had agreed to buy.

Under the current system, cattle delivered across state lines should be
accompanied by state health certificates showing they had been tested
for certain diseases. Numbers on the health certificates also should
match those on metal state tags clipped to cows' ears. In addition,
imported cattle should have official Canadian ear tags.

In Cappucci's case, all his cattle had Iowa ear tags. But he said they
were delivered without Canadian ear tags or the necessary health
certificates, which Cappucci said the seller had agreed to provide.

Cappucci said he called the seller, Randy Gibson, the owner of an Iowa
auction barn. Cappucci said Gibson told him he had no health
certificates for the cattle.

So, Cappucci wondered, where were the cattle he thought he was buying,
and where did the cattle delivered to his farm really come from? Without
health certificates, it was hard to tell.

Cappucci said that by using numbers from the Iowa ear tags, he traced
the herd from Lamoni to Sioux Center, Iowa, and from there to a
livestock dealer in Winnipeg. He also obtained a Canadian government
health certificate for the cattle.

But there was a problem, he said. The descriptions of the animals on the
Canadian document were different from the animals delivered to his farm,
Cappucci said. That made it impossible to truly determine where the
animals came from, he said.

At Cappucci's urging, Iowa and USDA officials investigated and found
that a veterinarian in Sioux Center removed the Canadian ear tags from
the cattle listed on the Canadian health form.

Iowa officials fined Wayne Searcy, the Sioux Center veterinarian, $500
for removing the Canadian ear tags. Records show they also fined Gibson
$300 for failing to give Cappucci health certificates.

Separately, the USDA fined Gibson $500 and issued a warning letter to
the owner of a Sioux Center facility where the cattle temporarily were
housed, an agency spokeswoman said. The department also issued a warning
to Searcy.

Searcy said last week that he mistakenly removed the Canadian tags and
learned a lesson that cost him $500. However, Searcy added, he was
unfamiliar with a new form of Canadian tags and thought he could
properly remove them. Government officials should have notified him of
the new Canadian tag system, but never did, he said.

Gibson said he bought the cattle through a broker who shipped them from
Canada to Sioux Center. Gibson said he then arranged to have them
shipped to his farm in Lamoni. Gibson said he did not have health papers
to give Cappucci because he did not get papers when he received the cattle.

I let it slip through the cracks, he said.

Whether Cappucci's cattle match the Canadian health certificate is
another matter, Gibson said, adding that veterinarians sometimes
describe the same cow in different ways, and thousands of cattle often
are processed at one facility on any single day.

Either way, Gibson said, I guarantee the system needs improving. We
need a better tracking system, and I think electronic or mandatory IDs
will be very good for industry, but they have got to make it workable.

Meanwhile, the USDA also issued Cappucci a warning letter for accepting
interstate delivery of the cattle without health certificates.

He should have known better, said Jack Sherer, a USDA veterinarian who
is familiar with the case. He used to work for us, and he should have
known the rules.

Cappucci is bitter over the citation. He said state and federal
officials should have at least tried to determine where his mystery herd
came from and what, if anything, needed to be done with it.

USDA spokesman Jim Rogers acknowledged that, if there was a discrepancy
in Cappucci's paperwork, that could be a problem.

As to whether the USDA should examine the herd or determine what should
be done with it now, Rogers said his agency only deals with the health
of live animals. If the cattle were sent to slaughter, he said, other
USDA agencies, such as the Food Safety and Inspection Service, would
enforce regulations designed to protect human health.

Not every animal is tested for mad cow. If these animals fell into the
target population, they would be pulled aside for BSE (mad cow) testing
Rogers added. Target animals are ones that demonstrate nervous-system

What happened to Cappucci is the most detailed and promising evidence
so far that the methods used to keep track of live cattle don't work,
said Bill Bullard, of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund.

The Montana-based livestock group has sued the USDA to prevent the
reopening of the border to cattle from Canada. And in an unusual
alliance, the stockmen have joined forces with a food-safety lobbying
group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, the center's director of food safety, said
Cappucci's case exposes a critical flaw in the United States' disease
defense. She said that by the time cattle arrive at the slaughterhouse,
there is no surefire way of knowing where they came from.

There is a huge gap in the system, DeWaal said.

Many area cattlemen, who gathered for a recent auction at the Mo-Kan
Livestock Market near Butler, were opposed to the border reopening. I
don't think the system here is up to the point of protecting us yet,
cattle buyer Jim Bridges said.

Bridges, other cattlemen and auction-barn owners said removing ear tags
and losing paperwork are far too common in their business.

The largest cattlemen's group, the National Cattlemen's Beef
Association, also has concerns about the USDA's proposal to open the
border, including lower prices for its members. But the group has not
taken a firm stand, chief lobbyist Jay Truitt said.

A decision will be made this week at the group's annual convention.

Don't fence me in

Other countries, critics say, are far ahead of the United States in
implementing effective animal identification systems, using electronic
chips or cellular and global positioning technologies implanted in animals.

The USDA has worked more than a year on such a nationwide tracking
system, but it probably will not be implemented for two years.
Meanwhile, the department has pilot programs in several states,
including Kansas.

But the USDA said a new plan for tracking Canadian cattle should be
ready when the border reopens. Under the U.S.-Canadian proposal 
contained in 500 pages of rules  imported Canadian cattle would have to
be slaughtered by 30 months of age. Cattle have a greater likelihood of
contracting mad cow after that age.

The proposal also would require that any live cattle from Canada be
permanently marked as Canadian, move only in sealed containers and not
be allowed to move to more than one feedlot before being slaughtered in
the United States.

Alain Charette, a spokesman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency,
said his agency is instituting a certification process for live cattle
bound for the United States.

We are in the process of digesting those 500 pages of U.S. rules and
involved in putting in place a process to make sure all this goes
smoothly on our side to meet U.S. conditions, Charette said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee has scheduled a hearing
Thursday on mad cow and the proposal to reopen the border.

But from the beginning the USDA's proposal to reopen the border has been
fraught with ill-timed problems on the Canadian side. The first case of
mad cow in Canada was discovered in May 2003. Seven months later, the
first U.S. cow that tested positive for mad cow disease turned up in
Washington state. It was traced to a Canadian herd.

On Dec. 30, 2004, one day after the USDA released its proposal to
partially reopen the border, Canada announced a new suspect animal.
The disease was confirmed the following week. On Jan. 11, Canadian
officials found another positive cow.

Through all the bad news, meatpackers, the American Meat Institute,
free-trade proponents and the USDA continued to back reopening the border.

In fact, the American Meat Institute, which represents the packing
industry, has sued the USDA to lift all the remaining restrictions with
Canada, including a ban on importing older cattle, which are thought to
be more susceptible to the disease.

A lot of money and jobs are at stake if the border remains closed.

Because of the cattle shortage, eight to 10 U.S. packing plants are shut
or working reduced hours, said James Hodges, president of the American
Meat Institute Foundation. The reverse is true in Canada, where the beef
industry is struggling.

As for Cappucci's complaints about the tracking system, Hodges said
comparing the old system with the new one planned when the border is
scheduled to reopen March 7 is like comparing apples and oranges.

Not everyone agrees.

You can't build a system that is absolutely bulletproof, said Truitt
of the cattlemen's group.

Cappucci also does not think the enhanced system will work if the
current U.S. system is not fixed. The new rules still would allow
Canadian cattle to mingle with American cattle in feedlots, where
identifying marks could be altered, some claim.

As for Cappucci's mystery cows  and there is no evidence they're
infected with mad cow  he said he may never know for sure where they
came from.

Taylor Woods, Missouri's state veterinarian, noted that nothing prevents
Cappucci from selling the cattle for slaughter and their meat winding up
in your grocery store.

Cappucci said he does not know what he'll do with the cattle.

I'd like the USDA to tell me what to do with them, he said.

To reach Mike McGraw, call (816) 234-4423 or send e-mail to .


######### ##########

Follow Ups:

Post a Followup

E-mail: (optional)


Optional Link URL:
Link Title:
Optional Image URL: