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Pressure Mounts for Federal Inquiry Into Possible Mad Cow in Texas

New York Times

Calls for Federal Inquiry Over Untested Cow
May 6, 2004
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

Consumer groups called for a Congressional investigation
yesterday into the death of a cow with symptoms of brain
damage at a Texas slaughterhouse last week.

The cow, which staggered and collapsed after passing an
initial visual inspection at Lone Star Beef in San Angelo,
Tex., was condemned as unfit for human consumption and
under federal regulations should have been tested for mad
cow disease.

Instead, it was sent to a rendering plant to be made into
animal food and byproducts.

The Consumers Union, the Center for Food Safety and the
Government Accountability Project said yesterday that they
wanted Congress to look into why the cow was not tested and
the possibility that federal officials ordered that no test
be done.

Consumer groups have regularly accused the Agriculture
Department of trying to avoid finding more mad cow disease
because of the damage it would do to the beef industry.
Former beef industry officials hold high positions in the
department.

The department said yesterday that failing to take a sample
was a mistake and that it would investigate. Its inspector
general's office said it would do its own inquiry.

The consumer groups were reacting to an article published
yesterday by meatingplace.com, a meat industry Web site.
Citing two anonymous sources, it said it had firsthand
knowledge of the events, one in government and one in
industry. The article said a federal inspector had started
to take a brain sample but was ordered not to by the
regional headquarters of the Agriculture Department in
Austin, Tex.

Ed Loyd, a department spokesman, said he could not comment
on the report.

A spokeswoman for the slaughterhouse said yesterday that
the federal inspectors had discussed taking a sample but
decided against it. The spokeswoman, Rosemary Mucklow,
executive director of the National Meat Association, which
represents meatpackers, said they did not explain why or
describe a discussion with the Austin office.

The federal inspectors instructed the plant to slash the
carcass and paint it with green dye before putting it on
the regular 3 p.m. rendering truck, Ms. Mucklow said.

Felicia Nestor, director of food safety at the Government
Accountability Project, which protects federal
whistle-blowers, said she had heard of several recent
instances in which inspectors had been told by regional
offices not to bother testing cows with signs of brain
damage. Ms. Nestor said the whistle-blowers did not want to
come forward.

Staggering and collapse by a cow can be caused by head
injuries, rabies, agricultural poisons or cancer, but mad
cow disease can be detected only by cutting off the
animal's head, taking a sample from the base of the brain
and doing laboratory tests that are not now performed in
slaughterhouses.

Ms. Nestor said she had been told that some tests were
skipped because they were inconvenient. In a state like
Texas, she said, the drive to the regional office with
samples could be several hundred miles. But, she noted,
other slaughterhouse inspectors have shipped frozen heads
or brains to the U.S.D.A. testing laboratory in Ames, Iowa.


Mr. Loyd said he did not know the shipping procedures.

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates rendering
plants, said Tuesday that it had tracked the
slaughterhouse's shipment and would require that it all be
destroyed or made into pig feed. Swine are thought not to
be susceptible to mad cow disease.

Lone Star Beef is the country's 18th-largest slaughterhouse
and specializes in older dairy cattle, which are at highest
risk of the disease.

According to Steve Mitchell, a United Press International
medical reporter who has collected thousands of 2002 and
2003 slaughterhouse records under the Freedom of
Information Act, Lone Star Beef slaughtered about 350,000
animals in those years and tested only three.

Mr. Loyd confirmed that but explained that the animals
normally tested were those unable to walk, or "downers."
Lone Star does not accept downers because it is a supplier
to McDonald's, which forbids them.

"The other plant in town had 90 tests," he said. "They
accepted downers."

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/06/national/06COW.html