YONKERS, N.Y. — Consumers Union officials, citing an increased risk of mad cow disease, expressed deep concern that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has gone ahead with its decision to import older cattle from Canada.
Although there had been some talk that the importation would be delayed, CU officials said the USDA has implemented its plan to open the border to the animals on schedule, last Monday, Nov. 19.
Consumers Union officials said letting the Canadian animals into the country poses a threat to American consumers and to our country's entire beef industry, naturally including retailers selling beef and beef products.
“We believe the USDA has put economic interest ahead of public safety,” Michael Hansen, Consumers Union senior scientist for food safety, told SN last week.
“There is no doubt that this action will increase the risk that [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] will enter the human food supply.”
The disease also could easily enter animal feed supplies, as the remains of food animals often are processed into feed for food animals.
According to Consumers Union, the incidence of BSE is three times more prevalent in Canadian cattle than figures show for cattle in this country. CU cited figures from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, that show an incidence of 0.13 per million in this country and 3.9 per million in Canada.
“In addition, that U.S. figure could be lower than it is in reality,” Hansen said. “We question that figure, because we don't think USDA should have cut back on the surveillance of cattle in the United States.
“In August 2006, they decided to go back, after having enhanced the incidence of surveillance earlier, to former levels. Now, again, they're just checking 40,000 cows a year here.”
Importing these animals from Canada makes it more difficult to trace a BSE-infected animal's heritage,” Hansen said.
The USDA has argued that cattle born after April 15, 1999, when Canada's tightened feed plan went into effect, are safe from BSE infection.
Hansen, however, disputes that fact and offers evidence that at least five of the 10 cows in Canada detected with BSE were indeed born after April 15, 1999.