U.S. cattlemen and agriculture professionals are ecstatic over China’s willingness to accept U.S. beef imports for the first time in 13 years. Yet few reports explain why the beef ban occurred in the first place.
On December 23, 2003, the USDA announced that a Holstein cow, imported from Canada and slaughtered in Moses Lake, Washington, tested positive for mad cow disease. Ann Veneman, USDA secretary at the time and other USDA officials, said the cow was discovered because she was a “downer”––unable to walk—which was how the system screened for mad cows. In other words, the system “worked.” The problem was three workers said the cow had walked just fine suggesting that the entire federal mad cow testing program was worthless. Congressional hearings ensued.
As it turned out, congressional troubles were the least of cattle producers’ problems. Within hours of the mad cow announcement, China, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea and ninety other countries banned US beef and 98 percent of the $3 billion overseas beef market vanished. (The only reason the EU didn’t ban U.S. beef was it was already banned for its hormones oestradiol-17, trenbolone acetate, zeranol and melengestrol which EU officials said increased breast and prostate cancer risks.)
After the first mad cow, things got worse. Two more mad cows were found in the U.S. in 2004 and they weren’t from Canada. One was born in Texas and the other Alabama. Worse, a USDA export verification report admitted that 29 downers at two unidentified slaughterhouses went into the human food supply and 20 were not tested for mad cow disease.