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USDA Officials Testify at House Hearings on BSE Surveillance

posted on July 16, 2004

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

The consumers who foster two-thirds of the nation's economic activity threw the brakes on in June ... an action that helped curb fears over rising inflation.

Consumer prices rose a modest three-tenths of a percent in June, half the size of the May increase. Wholesale prices actually fell by three-tenths of a percent, thanks to a retreat in food and energy costs. And retail sales dropped by 1.1 percent, as consumers kept a tighter grip on their wallets.

One thing consumers have NOT refrained from buying is U.S. beef. Demand for the meat remains high despite persistent braying from some quarters over things like Mad Cow disease. To that end, USDA officials went before Congress this week to defend their efforts at protecting the safety of the beef supply.

USDA Officials Testify at House Hearings on BSE Surveillance Joint Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R - Calfornia: "So if you would rise with me and raise your right hand..."

Mark Pearson: Senior USDA officials faced a barrage of questions this week from congressional lawmakers regarding the Bush administration's efforts to curtail bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

Lawmakers: "Are we more interested in protecting the industry or are we more interested in protecting the public here? Where were these two cases that resulted in false positives? What are you doing about it, I thought this really might be a situation where heads would roll...

Pearson: During a joint hearing of the House Agriculture Committee and the House Committee on Government Reform, lawmakers peppered Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, and others with questions about potential flaws in the current testing program for BSE, commonly referred to as mad cow disease.

The hearing took place in the wake of a report by the USDA's own inspector general. The report pointed out flaws in the current surveillance program and claimed USDA could miss detecting some cases of BSE.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D - California: Do you still think you can catch one cow in 10 million that may have mad cow disease?

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman: "I am not a statistical expert, I might have Dr Collins just comment briefly on that..."

Keith Collins, USDA Chief Economist: "I'd be happy to Madam Secretary..."

Pearson: Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of California has strongly criticized the Bush administration's surveillance program. In a letter to Veneman this week, the California democrat claimed a refusal to acknowledge limitations and mistakes ultimately would undermine the safety of the food supply and the confidence of America's trading partners. Like the Inspector General, Waxman called the method of sampling into question... a point USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins tried to dismiss.

Keith Collins, Chief Economist, USDA: "How do you determine the relationship between infectivity in the high risk population and in the normal population, how do you do that?"

Waxman: "If your assumptions are wrong however, your program is not going to be as effective as it needs to be to get people the assurance that they need."

(gavel pounding)

Joint Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R Virginaia: "Mr. Waxman, your time has expired. Henry, I let you have a couple of extra minutes, We gotta' move on, we have a lot of members who have questions."

Pearson: Despite criticisms of USDA's testing for BSE, other lawmakers were quick to point out USDA's successes.

Doug Ose, R - California: "The facts of the matter say that for the first time since 1992, the USDA is on the job."

Tags: agriculture animals beef Congress diseases food safety government livestock Mad Cow meat news USDA