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From: TSS ()
Subject: Suspect animal raises concern Critics rip procedure for mad cow test
Date: July 28, 2005 at 10:51 am PST

July 27, 2005, 11:52PM

Suspect animal raises concern
Critics rip procedure for mad cow test
By PURVA PATEL
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Regulators announced another possible domestic case of mad cow disease Wednesday, fueling critics' demands that more cows be tested.

The suspect animal is a 12-year-old cow that was euthanized after it had complications while giving birth on an undisclosed farm in April, but was not brought to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's attention until last week.

The cow, which tested inconclusive for mad cow disease, never entered the human food supply, the department said. But consumer groups weren't reassured.

"The fact that one of the cattle, an inconclusive, was found in April and then not brought to anyone's attention until now shows we have substantial gaps in our regulatory regime that you could drive a cattlehauling truck through," said Craig Culp, a spokesman for the Center for Food Safety in Washington. "Those lapses need to be closed. You simply test all the cattle now at the age of 20 months."

Some countries, such as Japan, test all cows before slaughter, while the U.S. tests only those that show signs of the disease.

"This calls into question claims that our food supply is completely safe and that these are isolated incidents," Culp said. "It shows we have cows out there possibly going untested that may be positive."

The USDA began a ramped-up screening program in 2004, after the first domestic case was discovered. As of Wednesday, the government had screened 419,113 head of cattle since then.

Tissue from the animal that tested inconclusive this week for the brain-wasting disease will be retested at a federal veterinary laboratory in Iowa and in Weybridge, England, for confirmation, the USDA said.

But the animal will undergo limited testing because the brain sample taken from it was treated with a preservative, rendering it unfit for other common tests — initial rapid screening and the more sophisticated Western blot.

Only the immunohistochemistry, or IHC, tests will be conducted, officials said.

A private vet took the sample as part of the Agriculture Department's enhanced surveillance program, in which vets who visit farms in remote areas collect samples when the USDA can't get to them on time.

The vet took the sample in April, when protocols allowed for the preservative to be used, but didn't submit it to the USDA until last week because the vet "simply forgot to send it in," said USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford.

"On that point, I would like to emphasize that while that time lag is not optimal, it has no implications in terms of the risk to human health," he said.

Since June, the department has required samples be shipped immediately.

An initial IHC test has indicated the possible presence of mad cow disease, but the distribution of the abnormal proteins that suggest the disease is present didn't look familiar, Clifford said.

The IHC test can yield different results depending on the "slice" of tissue tested, he said. Further testing will be conducted on additional slices of tissue from the animal.

The cow was burned and buried after being sampled. There is no quarantine on the farm.

The cow appeared to be domestic, born before the U.S. banned the practice of adding cattle remains to feed, Clifford said.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Animal Health Commission said the agency had not been contacted about the animal. The USDA probably won't contact the agency unless the animal tested positive and was from Texas, she said.

If confirmed positive — test results are expected next week — the animal would mark the third case of mad cow disease in the United States. The second case involved a Texas cow.

The handling of the suspected case announced Wednesday drew criticism from a Texas cattlemen's group.

"I was surprised to hear the fashion in which all this came about," said Shane Sklar, director of the Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas. "I sure would be interested to why there was a delay. We're all human and do forget things, but I would think if you're taking samples for a BSE surveillance program, you'd remember; it wouldn't take you four months to figure out you should send it in."

Analysts expect cattle futures to open slightly lower today out of caution.

John Harrington, chief livestock analyst for DTN, a commodity market reporting service, expects markets to dip slightly, perhaps 25 to 50 points.

purva.patel@chron.com

Chronicle reporter Adeel Iqbal contributed to this story.

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/business/3285269

TSS




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