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'Mad Cow' Finding Highlights Food Safety Gaps, Say Critics

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Mad Cow Disease page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

The announcement on Tuesday that a California dairy cow had mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), highlights shortcomings of the country's food safety system, say critics.

The beef industry and the USDA were quick to dismiss worries of contamination to the food supply.  John Clifford, the USDA's chief veterinary officer, said, "It was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said in a statement: "U.S. regulatory controls are effective, and that U.S fresh beef and beef products from cattle of all ages are safe and can be safely traded due to our interlocking safeguards."

But Elisa Odabashian, West Coast director of Consumers Union, noted that the monitoring system leaves public health gaps because it is just too small.

"Only 40,000 cows a year -- of millions slaughtered -- are tested," she said. "We don't know if this is an isolated, unusual event -- or if they are not finding it because they are not looking. There very well may be more beef that has this disease. Our monitoring program is tiny."