Tag Archives: Mike Johanns

US plans to scale down mad-cow testing

You can read about it here.

Money quote:

The USDA argues that a market-based program would be just as safe, and less expensive.

Additionally, USDA will rely on “market forces” to inspire ranchers and farmers to join a separate voluntary cattle tracking system, they said. The traceback system would be used to combat mad cow and other virulent livestock diseases.

Free market regulation? There’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one.

My favoite bit comes from this article on the same topic.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns pointed out testing is not a food safety measure. Rather, it’s a way to find out the prevalence of the disease.

Presumably that was said with a straight face. ‘Cause y’know, finding out the prevalence of a disease doesn’t affect food safety measures at all.

Technorati Tags: Food, Food Politics, USDA, Mad Cow, Food Testing

The USDA on Japan and Beef

Shorter Mike Johanns:

“We screwed up and it was a massive screw up, but really, it’s not entirely our fault, and we never fully understood what we signed up for, and it wasn’t a food safety issue anyway.”

Meanwhile, in order to reassure consumers and get Tokyo resume imports of American beef, Washington may allow Japanese inspectors increased access to U.S. meat inspection facilities. Talk about your culture clashes.

Technorati Tags: Food, Food Politics, Beef Imports

Dear USDA – Clean up Organic Mess

This tidbit is a couple of days late, but I wanted to bring it up as it deals with the Organic Fraud issues I’ve alluded to before.

According to an institute release, a letter today addressed to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns, from Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group and national organic food and farming watchdog, asked the Secretary to personally intervene in rebuilding the once promising collaborative environment that existed between the organic community and its regulators.

The money section?

Secretary Johanns was also asked to mediate a broiling dispute between the Department and the organic dairy industry, which has overwhelmingly backed eliminating loopholes that have permitted factory-style industrial dairy farms to market their milk as “organic” without allowing their animals to graze on pasture.

That paragraph deals directly with Horizon Organics, who, as regular readers here already know, are not really following organic practices. From this we can logically conclude that Horizon Organics is really not Organic.

Panic! No! Don’t Panic! What is the “Mad Cow” issue?

As politically savvy as I may or may not be, I actually do not like writing about food politics all that much, in large part because it’s so blessedly depressing. If one likes hot dogs, it’s best if one does not learn how hot dogs are actually made. If I had my druthers, I’d be writing about Mojito’s and omakase.

But alas, beef is not only food, but a food I happen to enjoy on occaission, so I find myself as a vested participant in this whole “Mad Cow” episode. As such, let me cut straight to two points here:

- It’s not time to get upset about our meat supply, yet.

- That being said, it’s perfectly okay to be upset at how the USDA has handled issues surrounding BSE (aka Mad Cow).

These two points are intertwined with one another. The reason we shouldn’t panic about our meat supply (yet) is due to the fact that we simply do not know how prevelant BSE is within our cattle population. It could simply be two cows, or it could be hundreds or thousands. We just don’t know.

Why we don’t know falls explicitly at the feet of the folks at the USDA…which is why we should be so pissed at them. They set the regulations for cattle farmings in regard to testing and feeding matters. They can set the guidelines which could help determine just how prevelant (or not) BSE is…but they don’t. They can set the guidelines which would put our cattle less at risk…but they don’t. There are other important variables involved here, including costs and such, but when you get down to the core failings of the USDA, they’ve done precious little to help reduce and prevent BSE. However, they’ve had no problems in telling us that our food is safe. As for how they come to that conclusion is beyond me.

The World Health Organization recommends the following when it comes to preventing the spread of BSE into the human population.

  • - Stop Feeding Infected Animals to Other Animals
  • - Establish Adequate Testing & Surveillance of animals
  • - Stop Feeding Bovine Brains, Eyes, Spinal Cords, & Intestines to People or Livestock
  • - Stop Weaning Calves on Cow’s Blood

Of these four recommendations, how many do you suppose the USDA supports?

The answer is none of them.

In fact, recently Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns had made mention of reducing the amount of testing. Of course, this was before this recent USDA fiasco (did you think that they’ve held Mad Cow press conferences on Friday is a coincidence? Bad news is always delivered on a Friday).

At any rate, the issue here is to focus your anxiety correctly. Worry less about the meat supply (for the moment) and worry far more about how the goofnuts at the USDA are possibly selling out our health interests for short term profits in the cattle industry.

Call your Congresscritters (state and federal) and raise hell.

Testing ‘Mad Cow’ Disease

In case you were too busy to see the news Friday evening, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns mentioned a second cow may have tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE (aka ‘Mad Cow’ disease). More tests will be conducted in order to conclusively state if the cow had disease. These additional tests are a requirement because of the following:

  • - 375,000 animals from the targeted cattle population have been tested for BSE using a rapid test. From these 375,000, 3 tests came back as inconclusive.
  • - Samples from those three cattle were then tested under what is known as immunohistochemistry (IHC) testing. The three samples came back as negative.
  • - Samples from the same three cattle were then tested under a procedure known as the Western Blot test, a internationally recognized confirmatory test. From this test, the results were two negatives and a positive.
  • - Since the one postive had also been tested as inconclusive (using one test) and negative (using a second), further tests will be conducted from samples from the one cow.

Okay, first things first: Apparently this is not a new case being tested. This positive comes from the same cows previously reported on earlier this year.

However, that being said, I still have some thoughts. Although 375,000 cattle tested sounds like an impressive number, consider that there is possibly over 100 million heads of cattle in the United States. (I got that number by doing some basic math on Nebraskas claim of having 6.6 million heads of cattle and having 6.75% of the US cattle population). That means that only .375 of 1% is being tested for BSE. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s adequate or not. In my own opinion (based off a statistical analysis class from college many years ago, and not much more), they need to bump the percentage up a bit. But again, I’ll leave that up to you, the reader.

Secondly – If a positive is pulled from one test, but not another, then one of the two is wrong. Whichever test is determined to be incorrect needs to be evaluated thoroughly. Yes, economic factors need to be evaluated as well, but even if this test is correct 99% of the time, on 375,000 heads of cattle, that means that 3750 tested cows gave incorrect answers. That’s simply unacceptable given the seriousness of the scope of the issue here.

As noted here before, the USDA is not testing friendly when it comes to BSE. There’s a reason for this: Money. If you read the news today, stocks are falling, especially in the food sector, based off of this news. Tawain has already stated that it will ban Beef imported from the U.S. if the final tests come back as positive. There’s money to lose here, and lot’s of it. Keep the following in mind – The USDA is tasked with helping to “ensure open markets for U.S. agricultural products”, not necessarily maintaining public health. I believe, in the case of BSE, the interest of the general public is not being met, even if the needs of cattle producers are.

As always, when it comes to beef, know where it is coming from. The better you are at determining the ranches and farms that your beef is coming from, the better the odds are that you are eating from a place that keeps public health in it’s mind.

(Thanks to US Food Policy for the heads up)

UPDATE: Teal Sunglasses let’s me know that my statement of “Secondly – If a positive is pulled from one test, but not another, then one of the two is wrong.” is, in of itself, incorrect.

They write:

Many times, the initial test used to screen issues like this is used not because it’s accurate, but because it’s fast and cheap. the idea is to quickly screen out what is NOT potentially infected, and then go back to those that tested positive and use a slower (more expensive) but more accurate test to see if you’re really infected.

I should note that the tests actually came back inconclusive first, then negative and then positive, rather than the other way around. It was only through the work of John Stauber at the Center for Media and Democracy, and other folks who asked (some would say demanded) that the the Gov’t use the Western Blot test. It was only with the Western Block test that the postive came back. I think this indicates that the immunohistochemistry testing is questionable as far as it’s adequacy is concerned.

If the IHC pulled a postive, and then the Western Blot test pulled a negative, I would be in full agreement.