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Mad Max

Active member
Apr 3, 2005
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at my computer
Split in Bush Administration over Whether or Not to Cover-Up Mad Cow Disease

No Sacred Cows: Phyllis Fong Takes on the Beltway and Mad Cow Disease
News Report, AsianWeek Staff Report,
Asian Week, Jul 06, 2005

Newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns appears to be headed for
a showdown with veteran Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong for ordering new
tests for mad cow disease in the nation¹s beef supply.

Since the tests Fong ordered have returned positive, several countries have
once again stopped buying U.S. beef, provoking uproar in the cattle

Reacting to industry pressure, Johanns now claims Fong requested the tests
without his knowledge or approval and added: ³It caught me by surprise, to
be very honest with you. I believe the secretary should be involved in all
decisions of this significance.²

Fong, the senior officer of the Inspector General¹s office of the USDA was
sworn in on December 2, 2002 after serving as Inspector General for the
Small Business Administration. Like Johanns, she is appointed by the
president and confirmed by the Senate. The Inspector General¹s office is an
independent arm of the department that performs audits and investigations.

When she ordered the re-testing of the latest case, she issued a statement
saying she was also probing ³the performance of [laboratories] in complying
with procedures for conducting tests.² With the cow that was suspected of
having the disease, she reported: ³Auditors noted an unusual pattern of
conflicting test results on one sample.²

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, England, an outside
testing agency, confirmed that a sample from an animal in November 2004
tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

Yet Johanns, who took the reins of the Agriculture Department early this
year in a Bush cabinet shake-up, insists that Fong has overstepped her
bounds. ³I was asked by the Senate and the president to operate the
department,² Johanns said. ³She could recommend; she could strongly urge.
But then the question is whether it¹s an operational decision.²

He reportedly learned of Fong¹s order from his chief of staff after the new
testing was already under way. He charges that it¹s up for debate whether
Fong had the authority to order the new tests, and asserts: ³It¹s my

This is not the first time Fong has found herself in the eye of the storm.

After allegations of misconduct arose in the handling of the first cow with
mad cow disease, Fong launched a criminal investigation.

³Currently we are investigating allegations surrounding the actual state of
the diseased cow before it went to slaughter,² Fong testified last year
before the House subcommittee on agriculture appropriations. ³So that¹s a
criminal investigation that¹s open, ongoing, active and it¹s focused on that

Fong¹s investigation concluded that there was no criminal negligence, but
in July she released an audit of the USDA¹s testing program and concluded it
had serious flaws that could undermine its credibility and lead to
questionable estimates of how widespread the disease is in America.

Fong recently re-opened investigations started during the administration of
Johanns¹ predecessor, Ann Veneman. Veneman began a reform push on testing
U.S. beef, but her efforts eventually ran aground amid battles between
competing interests, including the beef industry, scientists and consumer

The two behind-the-scenes audits follow complaints by several cow-state
senators over policies and procedures in testing for mad cow disease.

Fong said in a statement that ³our field work is ongoing² with results
expected ³late this summer.²

How did we get in such a mess.

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