Reasons for delay in re-testing for mad cow disease still causes concern

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it now appears that the animal suspected of having mad cow disease was born before the implementation of the 1997 feed ban that prohibits cattle remains in animal feed.

After pressure from Senior congressional Democrats, on why new tests on tissue from a cow declared free of mad cow disease seven months ago were necessary, the USDA, in an attempt to reassure the public and congressmen, said yesterday that the animal was born prior to the implementation of the 1997 feed ban and was another example of safeguards working.

In order to prevent the spread of mad cow disease the United States in 1997 banned the use of cattle remains as a protein supplement for cattle, goats and sheep. This regulation is considered by experts as by far the most important safeguard against the brain-wasting disease.

Nevertheless a brain sample from the cow is being sent to England for further study because a third round of tests came back positive last Friday.

Rosa DeLauro, the House Appropriations Committee's senior Democrat on farm issues, says the situation is absurd.

Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin, the Senate Agriculture Committee's top Democrat, says the department must explain why new tests were ordered and why it took months to do so.

The USDA has said the animal presented no threat to human or animal health because it was a "downer" cow, and was unable to walk, such animals are banned from the food chain.

Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union says it is hoped they will proceed extremely rapidly to track down the herd mates and not prolong this assessment, as a crucial seven months has been lost.

Dr. John Clifford, chief veterinary officer at the USDA says investigators are tracking the movements of the cow and other animals from its herd, the animal was incinerated last year after the first round of "rapid" tests indicated the presence of the disease.

Tissue from the cow's brain has been kept frozen at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

Scientists there will decide this week which portions to send to an internationally recognized laboratory in Weybridge, England and which portions to keep in Ames for further testing.

It remains unclear how all this will affect the U.S. meat export market.

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