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From: TSS ()
Subject: USDA was pushed to test again, Another check for mad cow leads to 'weak positive', like being kinda pregnant
Date: June 14, 2005 at 1:00 pm PST

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

June 14, 2005, 12:08AM


USDA was pushed to test again
Another check for mad cow leads to 'weak positive'
By DAVID IVANOVICH
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - The U.S. Agriculture Department, investigating a possible case of mad cow disease in an animal previously declared free of the ailment, conducted more tests only after being urged to do so by an inspector general.

Forced to backpedal on a pronouncement last November that an elderly cow - reportedly discovered in Texas - did not have the brain-wasting disease, USDA officials are now working to devise new procedures to re-examine the small amount of testable material that remains.

A sample will also be sent to a Weybridge, England, lab that developed expertise in the field during the outbreak of mad cow disease in Britain in the late 1980s.

"By performing additional testing, USDA hopes to learn the true nature of this unusual case," department officials said in a statement Monday. The results are expected to be announced within a couple weeks.

News of another possible case of mad cow disease - the first was confirmed back in late 2003 - sent cattle prices in Chicago down to their lowest level in 13 months, Bloomberg News reported. Cattle futures for August delivery dropped 1.775 cents, or 2.2 percent, to close at 80.35 cents a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The cow in question was one of more than 375,000 animals tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease since June 2004, when the United States launched a stepped-up screening program.

Identified as a possible risk because it could not walk on its own, the cow was tested for the disease and destroyed before it entered the food chain.

Initially, the animal tested positive. USDA officials then conducted a second, more elaborate analysis known as the immunohistochemistry, or IHC test, to check the screening test. The results were negative.

Officials likewise conducted IHC tests on two other animals whose initial tests had produced "inconclusive" results. Again, the confirmation test showed no evidence of the disease.

But regulators did not perform another kind of analysis, known as the Western blot test, that is used in many countries to detect this disease.

The IHC test is internationally recognized and is "equally effective" as the Western blot test for detecting the disease, USDA officials say.

Some food safety groups, however, insist the Western blot test has been shown to be more sensitive.

Earlier this month, the Agriculture Department's Inspector General's Office, which has been monitoring the government's mad-cow screening, recommended samples from the three cows be tested again, using the Western blot procedure, USDA officials revealed.

A spokesman for the Inspector General's Office did not return repeated calls.

A concentrated sample from the cow whose first test had shown positive then generated what USDA officials are calling a "weak positive" for the disease using the Western blot method.


Cow from Texas?
USDA officials continued Monday to provide only scanty details about the cow. They refused, for instance, to confirm reports the animal was found in Texas.

Bob Hillman, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, said he did not know if the animal was from the Lone Star State.

Hillman said officials do believe the cow was born in the United States. A cow in Washington state found to have the disease back in 2003 had been imported from Canada.

USDA officials have not revealed the exact age of the problematic cow, but they noted it was born before August 1997 - the effective date on a ban on the use of certain feed believed to be capable of transmitting the disease.

USDA's failure to perform the Western blot test before being prodded by the Inspector General's Office gave fodder to critics.

"The USDA's testing regimen is really designed to miss rather than confirm cases of mad cow disease," argued Craig Culp, a spokesman for the Center for Food Safety in Washington. "The fact it took a special request from the agency's own inspector general to use the most definitive test available makes that abundantly clear."

Humans who eat beef products contaminated with mad cow disease can contract a devastating illness, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

But USDA officials argue the procedures put in place to safeguard the nation's food supply worked. Because it could not walk on its own, the cow was never destined for the food chain.

And consumers remain confident about their food's safety. U.S. demand for beef has risen about 25 percent over the last several years, noted Matt Brockman, executive vice president of the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

david.ivanovich@chron.com

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/business/3224280

TSS

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