Report Critical of U.S. Beef Inspections Warns of Increased Risk of Mad Cow Disease

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Inspector General (IG), the nations beef supply is being put at risk of mad cow disease by inspectors who are not strictly following cattle screening rules.

This dire warning comes in a report that finds rules governing the slaughter of cattle are being ignored. As a result, the risk of the disease being spread through beef that is contaminated with the disease reports consumeraffairs.com. The disease, which infects and destroys cows’ brains, along with chronic wasting disease (CWD) that is a similar disease affecting deer and elk, are known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).

This casual screening practice discussed by the IG is quite problematic especially in light of the fact that mad cow disease has been blamed for the deaths of over 150 people in the UK.

The IG’s report said some slaughter houses were found to be ignoring the rules covering the slaughter of cattle completely.

According to consumeraffairs.com, in one example listed in the report, two of a dozen meatpacking plants reviewed in an audit slaughtered 29 suspect cows. The animals couldn’t walk, and at least 20 of them were “downer” cows, animals whose condition can’t be explained by injury. “Downer” cows are considered to be the highest risk for mad cow disease.

The slaughter of “downer” cows, for any reason, is prohibited, according to USDA regulations. More suspect cattle may be getting into the U.S. food supply because USDA’s record keeping needs improvement; however, auditors did not find any cases of banned tissues entering the food supply.

Recently, a shipment of U.S. beef to Japan contained banned tissue (brain and spine) and resulted of the re-imposition of a ban on U.S. beef.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which performs the slaughter house inspections, said it plans to “clarify its policy for slaughtering downer cattle and issue new guidance to its more than 6,000 inspectors as soon as possible.” (consumeraffairs.com)

“Downer” cattle were mandated to be excluded from the food supply after the first case of mad-cow disease was reported in the U.S. in December 2003.

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