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News report claims USDA botched BSE tests for hundreds of animals

by Brendan O'Neill on 8/12/04 for Meatingplace.com

During the past two years, nearly 500 suspect cows — including some of those considered high-risk — either were not tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy or had the wrong part of the brain collected by Agriculture Department officials, according to a report by United Press International.

USDA records, obtained by UPI under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest that some of the untested animals were counted under the agency's tally of BSE tests.

"None of those [untested animals or ones with the wrong portion of the brain collected] were counted in official sampling," USDA spokeswoman Julie Quick told UPI.

According to the USDA documents, 486 animals were not tested or had the wrong portion of their brain collected in 2002 and 2003, and more than 200 of the animals were not tested at all.

Most of the remaining animals had the wrong part of their brain sent to USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, with a few samples unsuitable to be tested, according to UPI.

In a report made public last month, USDA Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong criticized the agency's surveillance program and said a better system could have reduced the chances of finding BSE in that United States. (See USDA officials acknowledge flaws in BSE surveillance, Meatingplace.com, July 15, 2004.)

"This adds to the clear documentation in the Inspector General's report that the program is in shambles, from its design to its implementation to its record keeping," Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group in Washington, D.C., told UPI. "Somebody must be asleep at the switch if they can get this kind of data in their database and not launch some kind of investigation. It suggests inappropriate collection of samples and failure to test even those samples that were collected, on top of the failure to test categories of animals USDA told the American public it was testing."

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