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SRMs not being removed?

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Bill

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Auditors can't say whether meat plants followed rules
By LIBBY QUAID
AP Food and Farm Writer
WASHINGTON - Investigators could not determine whether beef slaughterhouses and packing plants obeyed safeguards designed to keep mad cow disease from reaching humans, an Agriculture Department audit found.

The 130-page audit, performed throughout 2005 and released Thursday, turned up a case of mad cow disease last year in a Texas cow.

The department's inspector general didn't find that at-risk tissues - brains, spinal cords and other nerve parts from older animals - had entered the food supply.

But investigators found it impossible to say whether slaughterhouses were following the rules, according to the report.

The report also faulted the department for not keeping records that could help trace the source of an outbreak of disease.

"As a result, should serious animal disease be detected in the United States, USDA's ability to quickly determine and trace the source of infections to prevent the spread of disease could be impaired," the report said.

The rules for tissue removal were made in response to the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, in 2003. They say at-risk tissues must be removed when older animals are slaughtered. Infection levels from mad cow disease are believed to rise with age.

The Agriculture Department cited slaughterhouses or processing plants more than 1,000 times in 2004 and 2005 for violating the rules.


The number of violations has been dropping, said Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator for the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Officials have already taken steps to better enforce the rules, said FSIS administrator Barbara Masters. "FSIS is confident it is successfully carrying out its mission to protect public health," she said.

The audit also raised questions about the government's surveillance for mad cow disease. The department has been testing about 1,000 animals a day since 2004 and has tested a total of 605,252 animals. The U.S. has about 96 million head of cattle.
 

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Cattle checks called flawed
Inspectors let suspect animals into food chain


By DAVID IVANOVICH and PURVA PATEL
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

WASHINGTON - Federal inspectors on the watch for mad cow disease have permitted animals unable to walk to enter the food chain, despite fears that such animals could harbor the dread illness.

Investigators for the Agriculture Department's Inspector General's Office found records at two unidentified slaughterhouses that showed inspectors for the Food Safety and Inspection Service had allowed 29 nonambulatory, or "downer," cows to be slaughtered between June 2004 and April 2005.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service had issued rules that allowed its inspectors to give the green light to slaughter downer cows, if those animals were known to have suffered an acute injury after passing a previous inspection, the Inspector General noted in a report released Thursday.

But the investigators could find no records for 20 of the 29 animals that indicated the animals in question had suffered severe injuries.

The Inspector General's Office went further, saying that by allowing any of these animals into the food chain, the agency was not abiding by its own regulations.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service's policy states that all animals that are unable to walk will be kept out of the food chain "regardless of the reason for their nonambulatory status or the time at which they became nonambulatory," the Inspector General's report said.

USDA officials have promised to clarify their rules regarding the slaughter of nonambulatory animals.

In a review of 12 facilities across the country, investigators also learned that some downer animals were not tested for mad cow by USDA inspectors stationed at slaughterhouses, because the potentially diseased cows were separated out from healthier animals on premises adjacent to the slaughter facilities.

Agency inspectors "stated they did not believe that they had the authority to go into these sorting ... areas and require that the rejected animals be provided ... for sampling," the report noted.

Bill Hyman, executive director of the Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas, said his organization's members were "disappointed to hear they're not abiding by their own rules. As cattle producers, we attempt to abide by the rules, and we would expect the USDA to abide by the same rules."

USDA rules also ban certain parts where mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is most likely to develop.

Investigators found no evidence such materials entered the food chain, but they could not determine whether proper procedures were followed to ensure that was not happening in nine of the 12 facilities visited as part of the probe.

The Inspector General's report represents another black eye for the Agriculture Department and its efforts to assure the world American beef is safe.

The report comes two weeks after Japan again closed its borders to U.S. beef products after inspectors there discovered pieces of backbone in a veal shipment.

While such meat products would be deemed safe for human consumption in the United States, Japan has forbidden their import because of mad cow concerns. A USDA inspector had approved that shipment.

As a safeguard, the USDA requires removal of so-called specified risk materials, or SRM, such as brains and spinal cords, from older cattle.

"If you look at any audit that was ever done, we have found we have never had SRMs get in the food supply," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told Reuters on Thursday.

"If you look at any audit that was ever done, we have found we have never had SRMs get in the food supply," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told Reuters on Thursday.

What???
 

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