Testing for Mad Cow
Published: April 16, 2006
To the Editor:
”Stop: Don’t Test Those Cows!” (editorial, April 5) asks a good question: Why doesn’t the Department of Agriculture allow the private testing of cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy?
The answer is simple: There is no food safety test for B.S.E., and testing cannot guarantee that an animal is free of the disease.
The U.S.D.A. bases its testing decisions on sound science and the need to protect human and animal health. Scientific evidence tells us that the average incubation time for B.S.E. is more than five years and that the disease isn’t detectable until a few months before an animal shows signs of the illness.
Based on that knowledge, the U.S.D.A. tests those animals most likely to have the disease, like older animals showing clinical signs, rather than indiscriminately testing all animals.
The real protection for consumers against B.S.E. is not testing, but our system of interlocking safeguards, the most important being the ban on specified risk materials from the food supply and the Food and Drug Administration’s ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban.
Administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Department of Agriculture
Washington, April 11, 2006