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From: TSS ()
Subject: THE HONORABLE PHYLLIS FONG AND HER Rocky Mountain oysters should be given a medal
Date: June 29, 2005 at 5:55 am PST

Today 6/27/2005 8:19:00 AM

Jolley Cattle: Phyllis Fong Is My Hero

Seven months after the USDA lost critical test results under a bushel of obfuscation and suspicious mismanagement, Phyllis Fong had enough guts and Rocky Mountain oysters to recognize an infraction on the neutral zone. She called a foul and tossed a flag in the face of blitzing beef industry linebackers. Their “no B.S.E. here” defense, led by a gold standard test that has proven to be considerably less, fell apart.

Referring to a mysterious second test that was lost in a bureaucratic time warp, the Sunday, June 26 issue of the New York Times (registration required) reported, “Phyllis K. Fong, the Agriculture Department's inspector general, arranged for further tests on specimens of the same cow. A test known as the Western blot, which is widely used in England and Japan but not in the United States, came up positive.”

“The sequence of events started in November, when an Agriculture Department laboratory in Ames, Iowa, performed two tests on the animal in question. After the gold standard test came up negative, the agency announced that the animal had not had mad cow disease. But at the same time, the same lab also conducted the experimental test, with different (positive) results.”

Ed Loyd, attempting to clarify the situation on behalf of the USDA, explained it this way, "The laboratory folks just never mentioned it to anyone higher up. They didn't know if it was valid or not, so they didn't report it."

It sounds like a lame attempt at a cover up to me. But let’s be generous for a moment. Suppose Ed is right. How many people knew about the second test and when did they know it? Considering the importance of such a finding, the lot of them should be lined up and bused to the nearest unemployment office for not immediately and loudly reporting it.

Reacting in shock to the Fong-ordered retest, the NCBA’s Jim McAdams led a group of irate industry association officials who registered a strong complaint with Ag Secretary Mike Johanns, stating that unexpected testing creates "great anxiety within our industry," and leads to "significant losses."

To be fair, those anxieties and losses – we’ll call it the Fong effect - weren’t caused by the unexpected test last week but by the unexpected and unreported test last November. If the results had been revealed at the time, the situation would be history by now. An embarrassed Taiwanese government wouldn’t be reinstating an import ban that had been lifted just a few weeks ago and touted with a massive P.R. campaign organized by a justifiably proud Phil Seng, President and C.E.O of the United States Meat Export Federation. There was some encouraging news, however. Taiwanese newspapers reported a run on remaining U.S. beef still in supermarket meat cases after the ban was reinstated.

Reports that the USDA’s J.B. Penn, exasperated over the painfully slow progress of diplomatic negotiations, took a threatening posture with a Japanese delegation over the beef issue wouldn’t be making headlines, either.

Here is the bottom line: We can no longer use science to defend our practices. The Question we must now face is how do we repair worldwide confidence in our beef supply and our ability to reliably monitor it? The answer requires absolute transparency along with a strong international public relations offensive.

We should immediately take government intervention out of the equation and open the field to free market forces. Testing of any kind by any part of the beef industry supply chain should be allowed immediately. The choice should be a business decision: Care about international trade? Test every animal if you so desire using any test regimen a trading partner requests. Interested only in U.S. consumption? Follow the current governmental edict as prescribed by “sound science.”

Hand-in-hand with open testing, of course, is the rapid implementation of a National Animal Identification System. Without reliable and quick traceability in the event of a food or animal health problem, there can be no repair to our international standing. We will cede $3 billion export market to Australia, Argentina and Canada.

Ed Loyd still adamantly maintains, "There is no scientific basis for doing what Japan and many critics want: testing all animals or all those more than 20 months old.”

I agree, but let me add one important point. The basis for testing animals is no longer one of science but of satisfying the often politically-driven requirements of our long-missing international trading partners. The hard facts of science and the soft facts of public opinion often differ. Hanging onto the former in the face of pressure created by the latter is a fool’s formula for corporate suicide.

For the USDA to insist on using the “gold standard” test as the final check, in the face of a better and more reliable test, is absolutely wrong. Even before the current debacle, Dr. Linda Detwiler, who led the USDA mad cow testing program until 2002 and now serves as Adjunct Professor, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, said the department should be using the Western blot test.

"You need to put as many tools in your tool kit as possible," she said.

Detwiler also attacked other financially sensible but short-sighted practices such as recycling poultry litter with spilled cattle meal back to cattle, giving calves "milk replacements" made from cattle blood, and letting cows eat dried restaurant "plate waste." She also called for brains and spines of all cattle to be destroyed, not made into feed even for pigs or chickens.

"That's how you keep infectivity out of the food chain," she said. "If a farmer makes a mistake and gives pig feed to cattle by mistake, the feed is safe."

That’s also how you repair a badly damaged international image and prevent it from spilling over into the U.S. marketplace, becoming a killing influence on U.S. consumption. Forget science for now. If it doesn’t pass the “yuck” test, don’t do it. Science sometimes loses; public opinion always wins.


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