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Consumer Groups Want More Cattle Testing

Jan 15, 2004 | AP Consumer and health groups asked Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on Thursday to immediately increase testing of cattle for mad cow disease and establish a mandatory animal identification system for tracking cows and beef cattle.

In a meeting with Veneman, the consumer groups said testing for mad cow should include animals as young as 20 months. USDA has said it would focus on animals 30 months and older since its long incubation period four to five years means mad cow typically doesn't show up in younger animals.

In response to the nation's first case of mad cow disease, Veneman said last month she will accelerate a joint government-industry effort to establish an electronic identification program for tracking every cow in the country.

But representatives from the advocacy groups that met with her Thursday including the American Public Health Association, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Government Accountability Project and Public Citizen complained the beef industry still has too great a role in the project.

They also asked Veneman to hold a series of public meetings to air concerns about new regulations she announced after the nation's first case of mad cow disease was found last month in a dairy cow slaughtered in Washington state.

"All of the proposals you have made were developed after private meetings with the regulated industries," the consumer groups said in a letter to Veneman.

Alisa Harrison, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, said Veneman did not commit to any proposal, but called the meeting useful.

Meanwhile, Canadian Agriculture Minister Bob Speller said Thursday his country's beef supply is safe and pledged to work with the United States on ways to prevent mad cow disease as a step toward lifting a U.S. ban on Canadian cattle imports. The Washington state Holstein with mad cow has been traced to a Canadian herd that came to the United States in 2001.

Speller, who is scheduled to meet Friday with Veneman and Mexican Agriculture Secretary Javier Usabiaga, said he had no illusions that the United States will immediately lift the ban, imposed last May when the first case of mad cow disease in Canada was found. Still, he said it is critical that the once-thriving cattle trade between the two countries resume as quickly as possible.

Two farm state senators, meanwhile, said that President Bush should use emergency regulations to direct the Agriculture Department to adopt country-of-origin meat labeling.

Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., want rules that say meat from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States must be labeled as "100 percent U.S. beef."

The Washington state case "has cast an unfair shadow of uncertainty over the American food industry," since it involved a cow born in Canada, the senators wrote.

White House officials indicated earlier this week they oppose rewriting a House-passed bill that effectively prohibits the Agriculture Department from requiring such labels on meat products. The bill is awaiting final Senate action.

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