Mad Cow and the USDA’s Slight of Hand

I brought this up on a comment on Barbara’s site, but I thought I should mention it here as well.

You may have seen the reports stating that “1,000 citations issued on mad cow regulations“

Aside from the fact that the title of the article is misleading (not all of the citations are mad cow related), the key to this article is not the number 1,000, but rather a missing unreported number.

As I commented on Barbara’s post:

The problem with that article is that we (the reader) have no idea if that number is a high or low number. 1000 Reports filed over a 17-month period translates roughly to 2 reports a day, 3 if you’re counting only business days. Having been part of inspections where 2 findings were found, this is not an unreasonable number. Remember, only some of these non-compliance reports (NCRs) involved specified risk materials.

If one were to get a true picture of the industry, we’d be better served by knowing:

1) How many people are out there on any given day writing out these NCRs. If there is only 1 auditor finding 2 incidents a day, then there’s a story. If there are 1000 auditors a day, it’s more difficult.
2) What sampling of meat packing plants were these NCR’s drawn from. Were these NCR’s found at a small percentage of the Meat Packing Plant operations? Or is it a wide spread, industry wide problem?

A single number means nothing unless there’s another number to compare it with. It’s probably not a coincidence that it’s the only number given. Remember, this is an agency that loves to state that they’ve tested 419,000. This sounds impressive until you learn that this number only constitutes a little over 4 tenths of one percent of the entire cattle population. The USDA has a history of playing cutesy with their stats.

This is purely speculation on my part, but I feel the real story is in the numbers that are not being reported.


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