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From: TSS ()
Subject: Some fear US MAD COW Animal ID secrecy, Congress cloaks more information in secrecy $
Date: June 3, 2005 at 1:34 pm PST

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

Some fear US Animal ID secrecy

Congress cloaks more information in secrecy


Cox News Service

Friday, June 03, 2005

WASHINGTON - Few would argue with the need for a national livestock identification system to help the federal government handle a disease outbreak such as mad cow.

But pending legislation calling for the nation's first electronic livestock tracking system would prohibit the public from finding out anything about animals in the system, including the history of a cow sick with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The only way the public can find out such details is if the secretary of agriculture makes the information public.

That's because the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., includes a provision that exempts information about the system from being released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Formally called the "third exemption," it is one of nine exemptions the government can use to deny the release of information requested under the FOI Act.

Open government advocates say it is the most troubling of the nine exemptions because it allows Congress to cloak vital information in secrecy through legislation, often without a public hearing or debate. They say Congress frequently invokes the exemption to appease private sector businesses, which argue it is necessary to protect proprietary information.

"It is an easy way to slap a secrecy stamp on the information," said Rick Blum, director of, a coalition of more than 30 groups concerned about government secrecy.

The legislative intent of Congress is far more difficult to challenge than a federal agency's denial for the release of information, said Kevin M. Goldberg, general counsel to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

"This secrecy is often perpetuated in secret as most of the (third exemption) provisions consist of one or two paragraphs tucked into a much larger bill with no notice that the Freedom of Information Act will be affected at all," Goldberg said.

There are at least 140 cases where congressional lawmakers have inserted such exemptions, according to a 2003 Justice Department report.

The report notes that Congress has been "increasingly active in enacting such statutory provisions."

The exemptions have become so popular that finding them in proposed legislation is "like playing a game of Wackamole," one staffer to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., joked. "As soon as you handle one, another one pops up."

Congress used the exemption in its massive Homeland Security Act three years ago, granting businesses protection from information disclosure if they agreed to share information about the vulnerabilities of their facilities.

And in another twist on the exemption, Congress inserted a provision into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004 that states that "no funds appropriated under this or any other act may be used to disclose" records about firearms tracking to the public.

Government agencies have also sought protection from information disclosure.

For example, Congress passed an amendment to the National Security Act in 1984 that exempted the CIA from having to comply with the search and review requirements of the FOI Act for its "operational files."

Most of the information in those files, which included records about foreign and counter-intelligence operations, was already protected from disclosure under the other exemptions in the FOI Act.

But before Congress granted the exemption, the agency had to search and review each document to justify withholding the information, which cost time and money.

Open government advocates say many of the exemptions inserted into legislation are not justified.

"This is back door secrecy," said Thomas Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, a nonprofit research institute based in Washington.

When an industry wants to keep information secret, it seeks the so-called third exemption, he said.

"It all takes place behind the sausage grinder," Blanton said. "You don't know what gristle is going through the spout, you just have to eat it."

But Daniel J. Metcalfe, co-director off the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy, said the exemption is crucial to the FOI Act's structure.

In the case of the animal identification bill, the exemption is critical to winning support from the cattle industry and on Capitol Hill.

"If we are going to develop an animal ID system that's effective and meaningful, we have to respect participants' private information," said Peterson, the Minnesota lawmaker who proposed the identification system. "The goal of a national animal I.D. system is to protect livestock owners as well as the public."

As the livestock industry sees it, it is providing information that will help protect the public health. In exchange for proprietary information about their herds, they believe they should receive confidence that their business records will not be shared with the public.

"The producers would be reluctant to support the bill without the protection," said Bryan Dierlam, executive director of government affairs at the National Cattleman's Beef Association.

The animal identification bill provides the government with the information it needs to protect the public in the event of an disease out break, Dierlam said. "But it would protect the producers from John Q. Public trying to willy-nilly access their information."

Food safety experts agree there is a clear need for an animal identification system to protect the public, but they are not certain that the exemption to the FOI Act is necessary.

"It's sad that Congress feels they have to give away something to the cattle industry to achieve it," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of the food safety program at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.

Slipping the exemption into legislation without notice is another problem cited by open government advocates.

It has become such a problem that the Senate's strongest FOI Act supporters, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., proposed that lawmakers be required to uniformly identify the exemption in all future bills.

"If Congress wants to create new exemptions, it must do so in the light of day," Cornyn said. "And it must do so in a way that provides an opportunity to argue for or against the new exemption - rather than have new exemptions creep into the law unnoticed."

Leahy agreed, saying that Congress must be diligent in reviewing new exemptions to prevent possible abuses.

"In Washington, loopholes tend to beget more loopholes, and it's the same with FOI Act exemptions," Leahy said. "Focusing more sunshine on this process is an antidote to exemption creep."

On the Web:

Justice Department's FOIA report:

Animal Identification Act (HR1254):

Gerald Wells: Report of the Visit to USA, April-May 1989


The general opinion of those present was that BSE, as an
overt disease phenomenon, _could exist in the USA, but if it did,
it was very rare. The need for improved and specific surveillance
methods to detect it as recognised...


It is clear that USDA have little information and _no_ regulatory
responsibility for rendering plants in the US...


3. Prof. A. Robertson gave a brief account of BSE. The US approach
was to accord it a _very low profile indeed_. Dr. A Thiermann showed
the picture in the ''Independent'' with cattle being incinerated and thought
this was a fanatical incident to be _avoided_ in the US _at all costs_...


To be published in the Proceedings of the
Fourth International Scientific Congress in
Fur Animal Production. Toronto, Canada,
August 21-28, 1988

Evidence That Transmissible Mink Encephalopathy
Results from Feeding Infected Cattle

R.F. Marsh* and G.R. Hartsough

.Department of Veterinary Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison,
Wisconsin 53706; and ^Emba/Creat Lakes Ranch Service, Thiensville, Wisconsin 53092

Epidemiologic investigation of a new incidence of
transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) in Stetsonville, Wisconsin
suggests that the disease may have resulted from feeding infected
cattle to mink. This observation is supported by the transmission of
a TME-like disease to experimentally inoculated cattle, and by the
recent report of a new bovine spongiform encephalopathy in


Transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) was first reported in 1965 by Hartsough
and Burger who demonstrated that the disease was transmissible with a long incubation
period, and that affected mink had a spongiform encephalopathy similar to that found in
scrapie-affecied sheep (Hartsough and Burger, 1965; Burger and Hartsough, 1965).
Because of the similarity between TME and scrapie, and the subsequent finding that the
two transmissible agents were indistinguishable (Marsh and Hanson, 1969), it was
concluded that TME most likely resulted from feeding mink scrapie-infecied sheep.
The experimental transmission of sheep scrapie to mink (Hanson et al., 1971)
confirmed the close association of TME and scrapie, but at the same time provided
evidence that they may be different. Epidemiologic studies on previous incidences of
TME indicated that the incubation periods in field cases were between six months and
one year in length (Harxsough and Burger, 1965). Experimentally, scrapie could not be
transmitted to mink in less than one year.
To investigate the possibility that TME may be caused by a (particular strain of
scrapie which might be highly pathogenic for mink, 21 different strains of the scrapie
agent, including their sheep or goat sources, were inoculated into a total of 61 mink.
Only one mink developed a progressive neurologic disease after an incubation period of
22 mon..s (Marsh and Hanson, 1979). These results indicated that TME was either caused
by a strain of sheep scrapie not yet tested, or was due to exposure to a scrapie-like agent
from an unidentified source.


A New Incidence of TME. In April of 1985, a mink rancher in Stetsonville, Wisconsin
reported that many of his mink were "acting funny", and some had died. At this time, we
visited the farm and found that approximately 10% of all adult mink were showing
typical signs of TME: insidious onset characterized by subtle behavioral changes, loss of
normal habits of cleanliness, deposition of droppings throughout the pen rather than in a
single area, hyperexcitability, difficulty in chewing and swallowing, and tails arched over
their _backs like squirrels. These signs were followed by progressive deterioration of
neurologic function beginning with locomoior incoordination, long periods of somnolence
in which the affected mink would stand motionless with its head in the corner of the
cage, complete debilitation, and death. Over the next 8-10 weeks, approximately 40% of
all the adult mink on the farm died from TME.
Since previous incidences of TME were associated with common or shared feeding
practices, we obtained a careful history of feed ingredients used over the past 12-18
months. The rancher was a "dead stock" feeder using mostly (>95%) downer or dead dairy
cattle and a few horses. Sheep had never been fed.

Experimental Transmission. The clinical diagnosis of TME was confirmed by
histopaihologic examination and by experimental transmission to mink after incubation
periods of four months. To investigate the possible involvement of cattle in this disease
cycle, two six-week old castrated Holstein bull calves were inoculated intracerebrally
with a brain suspension from affected mink. Each developed a fatal spongiform
encephalopathy after incubation periods of 18 and 19 months.

These findings suggest that TME may result from feeding mink infected cattle and
we have alerted bovine practitioners that there may exist an as yet unrecognized
scrapie-like disease of cattle in the United States (Marsh and Hartsough, 1986). A new
bovine spongiform encephalopathy has recently been reported in England (Wells et al.,
1987), and investigators are presently studying its transmissibility and possible
relationship to scrapie. Because this new bovine disease in England is characterized by
behavioral changes, hyperexcitability, and agressiveness, it is very likely it would be
confused with rabies in the United Stales and not be diagnosed. Presently, brains from
cattle in the United States which are suspected of rabies infection are only tested with
anti-rabies virus antibody and are not examined histopathologically for lesions of
spongiform encephalopathy.
We are presently pursuing additional studies to further examine the possible
involvement of cattle in the epidemiology of TME. One of these is the backpassage of
our experimental bovine encephalopathy to mink. Because (here are as yet no agent-
specific proteins or nucleic acids identified for these transmissible neuropathogens, one
means of distinguishing them is by animal passage and selection of the biotype which
grows best in a particular host. This procedure has been used to separate hamster-
adapted and mink-udapted TME agents (Marsh and Hanson, 1979). The intracerebral
backpassage of the experimental bovine agent resulted in incubations of only four months
indicating no de-adaptation of the Stetsonville agent for mink after bovine passage.
Mink fed infected bovine brain remain normal after six months. It will be essential to
demonstrate oral transmission fiom bovine to mink it this proposed epidemiologic
association is to be confirmed.

These studies were supported by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences,
University of Wisconsin-Madison and by a grant (85-CRCR-1-1812) from the United
States Department of Agriculture. The authors also wish to acknowledge the help and
encouragement of Robert Hanson who died during the course of these investigations.

Burger, D. and Hartsough, G.R. 1965. Encephalopathy of mink. II. Experimental and
natural transmission. J. Infec. Dis. 115:393-399.
Hanson, R.P., Eckroade, R.3., Marsh, R.F., ZuRhein, C.M., Kanitz, C.L. and Gustatson,
D.P. 1971. Susceptibility of mink to sheep scrapie. Science 172:859-861.
Hansough, G.R. and Burger, D. 1965. Encephalopathy of mink. I. Epizoociologic and
clinical observations. 3. Infec. Dis. 115:387-392.
Marsh, R.F. and Hanson, R.P. 1969. Physical and chemical properties of the
transmissible mink encephalopathy agent. 3. ViroL 3:176-180.
Marsh, R.F. and Hanson, R.P. 1979. On the origin of transmissible mink
encephalopathy. In Hadlow, W.J. and Prusiner, S.P. (eds.) Slow transmissible
diseases of the nervous system. Vol. 1, Academic Press, New York, pp 451-460.
Marsh, R.F. and Hartsough, G.R. 1986. Is there a scrapie-like disease in cattle?
Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Western Conference for Food Animal Veterinary
Medicine. University of Arizona, pp 20.
Wells, G.A.H., Scott, A.C., Johnson, C.T., Cunning, R.F., Hancock, R.D., Jeffrey, M.,
Dawson, M. and Bradley, R. 1987. A novel progressive spongiform encephalopathy
in cattle. Vet. Rec. 121:419-420.



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