Saturday, November 05, 2005

Americans may have eaten mad cow

Americans may have eaten mad cow: Offspring of infected Texas cow suspected of reaching human food supply

Dallas Morning News Story

Researchers hunting the herd linked to the first U.S. case of mad cow disease were cited as finding that most of the animals were slaughtered—and possibly in the human food supply—even before the government probe began.

The federal and state governments closed an investigation into the infected cow, which was raised at an unidentified Texas ranch, at the end of August.

But the Dallas Morning News obtained details about the search for the 413 cows and calves on Tuesday under a Texas Open Records request. About 350 of them, or roughly 85 per cent, were sent for slaughter.

The story says that the reports, compiled for the Texas Animal Health Commission by a government employee, demonstrate how problematic it was to track the herd mates and progeny of a diseased cow.

The investigators' searches for feed records, as well as "animals of interest" went back years. Many records were no longer available. The state wound up relying on its own data taken in the county between 1990 and 1994 to get a snapshot of the herd.

Dr. Max Coats, deputy director for animal health programs at the Texas Animal Health Commission, was quoted as saying, "If it were not for our brucellosis information and database, we would have had extraordinary difficulty in conducting this investigation. … We would have liked for the record keeping to have been better. Some producers have flawless records. Others know they had 14 cows last year and they don't know whose they were."

Because the record keeping and identification process at the affected farm was lacking, inspectors had to trace 213 calves in their hunt to find two that were recently born to the diseased cow. They never were able to specifically identify the two calves, but did say that 208 of those investigated went into feed and slaughter channels, entering the food supply. Another four likely did. One calf was untraceable.

Tom McGarity, a professor of food safety law at the University of Texas Law School, was quoted as saying, "If they're fairly confident that the group they identified as the progeny was complete and if nearly all of them were slaughtered, chances are the progeny was eaten by a human being."

Coats and Jim Rogers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said there should be no fear of mad cow entering the human food supply.

Rogers said that regulations keep any possibly diseased cow out of the system.

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