Iowa Public Television


BSE Rapid Test

posted on July 2, 2004

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

The Federal Reserve Board this week said the economy is expanding at a solid pace and labor markets are improving. That's the Fed's reason for raising a key short-term interest rate by one-quarter percentage point. The Fed said its first rate increase in four years was necessary to prevent the economy from overheating.

But the economy is not overheating from too many jobs. Employers hired less help in June than economists anticipated and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.6 percent for the third straight month.

And America's factory orders for durable goods dropped by 1.8 percent in May. One report said the weakness in costly manufactured goods, such as cars, could last at least three years.

However, economists were encouraged by reports that consumer spending in May jumped by its largest amount in two years.

Whether that confidence carries over to food safety, especially in the beef sector, was challenged this week as government inspectors were again confronted the specter of Mad Cow disease.

BSE Rapid Test It has been more than a week since the USDA declared the occurrence of its first "inconclusive" Mad Cow quick-test result. As per protocol, the carcass was held out of the food stream. Tissues were sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for further testing. The secondary results were negative.

The expected furor over what even the hint of a Mad Cow case could do to the market appears to not have materialized. Prices were depressed on Monday and Tuesday but rebounded near week's end. Feeders were knocked off their rocket pace by as much as four dollars but remain at historic highs.

News sources, as well as angry farmers, have been asking the USDA why it insists on releasing inconclusive test results instead of waiting for confirmation from the Ames facility. Officials at USDA stated they want to be as transparent as possible and avoid having the information leak out. Even with the vow of transparency, the governmental agency has refused to release the type, age, or location of any animal in question.

Despite this, some information has managed to slip out. Cattle Buyer's Weekly, a California-based publication, reported the first animal was approximately 17-months old and the initial testing may have been conducted at the University of California-Davis. And Feedstuffs Magazine reported a second rapid test on the same animal was negative. DTN has stated that USDA has leaked information in the past in an attempt to manage the market but the motivation of the most recent leaks is unclear.

Two major industry advocacy groups remain in support of random testing and the release of preliminary results. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the American Meat Institute point to testing as another method of keeping the food supply safe.

Since June 1, the beginning of increased testing, 8,587 animals have been checked for Mad Cow. The USDA is planning to test a maximum of 268-thousand animals over the next 12 to 18 months.

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