John Kerry this week assured himself of the Democratic Party's nomination for president, setting up an eight-month battle to try and unseat President Bush. Much of the debate between the two men is sure to center on the economy, which this week showed signs of continued growth.
For starters, the number of people filing new applications for jobless benefits has dropped. Consumers boosted their spending by a solid four-tenths of a percent in January. And though some economists believe interest rates may be poised to rise, others say that action won't occur until after the election.
There's lack of agreement, too, on the USDA's handling of the nation's one and only case of Mad Cow disease. That uncertainty this week led the government to launch a criminal investigation into whether documents were falsified during the December discovery.
In January, USDA banned any meat from so called "downer" cattle from entering the U.S. food supply. In February, however, workers who handled and slaughtered the infected cow alleged that it was not a downer.
The worker who actually killed the infected animal believes the USDA veterinarian falsely listed the animal as a downer on slaughterhouse records. USDA inspected more than 21,000 cows last year, focusing primarily on downers, which are more likely to carry disease. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman is calling for more testing of downer cattle in the future, but if mad cow disease was found in an ambulatory animal the selection method would be called into question.
The criminal investigation is in its infancy and a concurrent internal investigation into the effectiveness of USDA surveillance and testing methods also is underway.
Meanwhile, the agriculture department announced this week that the meat recall from the nation's first case of mad cow disease was nearly four times larger than previously disclosed. USDA said the recall grew from just over 10,000 pounds to nearly 40,000 pounds when it was learned that meat from the infected cow was mixed with meat from other cattle at several processors. USDA described the increase in poundage as "irrelevant."