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Beef Packer to Fight USDA on Mad Cow Testing

Beef packer to fight USDA on BSE testing (4/12/04)
Monday, April 12, 2004
Capital Press

April 12, 2004 - Creekstone Farms Premium Beef LLC said it will “aggressively challenge USDA’s decision” late last week not to allow Creekstone to voluntarily test all the cattle it processes for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The company said that since it asked USDA Feb. 19 for permission to privately test beef at the company’s Arkansas City, Kans., plant, company officials have held “ongoing meetings” with USDA officials but the USDA announcement “came as a surprise to the company.”

“We are extremely disappointed but nonetheless relieved to finally have a response from the USDA,” said John Stewart, Creekstone chief executive officer, in a company news release. “We now know where USDA stands but are surprised it took them six weeks to respond with a ‘no’ to our request.”

Stewart said his company hasn’t ruled out legal action as it considers options to challenge USDA’s authority. “We have a back-up strategy in place and over the weekend we will be finalizing our plans, which we will unveil early next week,” Stewart said in the release.

Creekstone said Stewart and another company executive met April 8 with USDA officials. Those officials told the executives that USDA will keep negotiating with the Japanese and other export countries to reopen markets for U.S. beef exports, but the USDA officials said BSE testing of younger animals, such as those Creekstone processes, isn’t scientifically justified or necessary.

“We firmly disagree with the USDA,” Stewart said in the news release. “The Japanese government, as well as Japanese consumers, are standing firm in that they want all beef imported from the United States to be tested for BSE. The USDA’s stance now gives us direction to pursue a path that proves they are wrong with their efforts to continue negotiating a BSE surveillance program that does not meet our customers’ requirements.”

Creekstone said it has built “one of the best laboratories in the country inside of our processing plant to perform BSE testing,” said Steward. “We have the equipment in place and staff trained to perform these tests. The company plans to use a test made by BioRad, a company based in Hercules, Calif., to test the animals; that’s the same test the French and Japanese use to test all their animals, said the company.

USDA had publicly announced Friday that it won’t allow Creekstone to use rapid tests for BSE for its private marketing program. “The test is now licensed for animal health surveillance purposes,” said Bill Hawks, USDA under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs. “The use of the test as proposed by Creekstone would have implied a consumer safety aspect that is not scientifically warranted.”

More rapid BSE tests gained approval.

• Abbott Laboratories said April 7 that USDA had given it permission to sell and distribute its rapid Enfer BSE test, which provides results within hours. It detects abnormal proteins that are believed to cause BSE. “The Enfer BSE test has been successful in Europe and Japan, where large-scale screening is mandatory,” said Joseph Nemmers, Abbott senior vice president for diagnostic operations, in a news release. Abbott said it has sold the test outside the United States since it made a marketing and distribution agreement in 2001 with Enfer Scientific Ltd., of Ireland. The test has been used on more than 3 million samples, said Abbott.

• Prionics AG and Roche Diagnostics announced April 8 that USDA had approved Prionics’ BSE rapid test, Prionics-Check WESTERN, which Roche Diagnostics will distribute in the United States. Roche has distributed Prionics tests in most major markets since February 2001, said Prionics. In a news release, the company said its test doesn’t produce false positive results, “which can cause a significant loss in consumer confidence and have major economic impact, particularly in BSE-free countries and countries with a low incidence of BSE, like the United States.” The company said that its Prionics-Check Western test was used in 18 million of the 30 million BSE tests conducted worldwide between 2001 and 2003, without false positive results. News release