The studies found the nations that would gain free trade status under CAFTA have poor working environments ... and fail to protect workers' rights. The administration dismissed those conclusions as inaccurate and biased.
There also was concern from some quarters this week about secrecy down on the farm. In a letter to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns, Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro claims there's mounting evidence that cattle at high risk of Mad Cow disease are being disposed of on farms and ranches, rather than being tested.
USDA records show a 20 percent drop last year in the number of reports of "downer" cattle -- animals unable to walk and considered to be at risk of having Mad Cow disease. USDA has tested nearly 400,000 cattle in the past year and says it's getting excellent cooperation throughout the beef industry.
But it's worth noting that the latest investigation of Mad Cow disease in the U.S. started with a downer cow.
According to USDA, the cow probably contracted the disease by consuming feed containing animal byproducts before a 1997 ban on the use of such byproducts went into effect.
Agriculture Department officials said they traced the cow to a Texas herd through DNA analysis. USDA said the source herd has been quarantined, but would not identify the animal's owner or say how many cattle were in the herd.
The case marks the first time the disease has been found in a U.S.- born cow. America's only other confirmed case, discovered in Washington state late in 2003, was in a dairy cow imported from Canada.
USDA officials continue to reassure consumers of the safety of the U.S. beef supply, stressing that the cow that tested positive did NOT enter the human food chain. Additionally, USDA says the fact that the animal was selected for additional testing confirms the government's safeguards are effective.
Nevertheless, USDA says in the future it will require more sophisticated tests on suspect animals.
For the most part, cattle markets were not caught off-guard by the news of the latest U.S. case of mad cow disease. Live cattle futures traded .70 cents per pound higher on Monday -- the first day of trading after USDA's announcement of the discovery late last Friday. The friendly reaction prompted some analysts to suggest the markets already had factored in the possibility of a confirmed case of the disease.
But in Texas, the home to the animal in question, the cash market was down about $4.00 on Monday and continued to decline for the rest of the week.
Texas produces nearly 14 million head annually, making it the nation's top cattle state. According to the State Department of Agriculture, the cattle industry had a total economic impact of $14 billion in the "Lone Star" state last year.