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USDA Resisted Re-Testing

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ranch hand

Well-known member
Jun 4, 2005
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BSE retest ‘can of worms’

John A. Harrington, DTN


First impressions can be dangerous things, long on instinct and bias, short

on new information and thoughtful reflection. Words and analysis offered in

haste should be well seasoned given the distinct possibility that they will

eventually have to be eaten. Having said all that, we can't resist reacting to

the USDA's decision to retest cow tissue that was originally judged to be BSE

free in the late fall of 2004 (i.e., nearly seven months ago).

The Decision: What was the Department thinking? We see no justifiable

reason to open an old can of worms, especially one that was responsibly vetted

when it was first discovered last year. The USDA has indicated that it was

prompted to revisit the results of last November by a recommendation early last

week from the Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Apparently

the OIG did not see the gold in the so-called gold standard (i.e., the IHC

test), suggesting that the credibility of the entire monitoring system might be

enhanced if the Western blot test--considered to be the gold standard by many

European countries--was also used. This may seem reasonable looking forward,

but why go back and dig up dead bodies? Yet that's exactly what the gov did,

retesting three samples with Western blot. Unfortunately, the test results were

mixed with two samples showing no BSE and the third called a "weak" positive.

So with two gold standards contradicting each other (wasn't this

possibility anticipated?), Secretary Johanns has been forced to call the World

Reference Laboratory in Weybridge, England, to act as a tie-breaker. At this

point it is unclear as to exactly how UK scientists will proceed. Will they

rerun the Western blot, the IHC, or both? The fact is that no samples have yet

been UPSed to England. The rapidly disappearing cow brain (we understand that

there are only 12 ounces left) will stay in the U.S. until scientists in both

countries agree regarding a course of action.

Here's where the whole situation really looks dumb. There are no

internationally accepted rules regarding how to separate an accurate IHC test

from a faulty Western blot test. To be sure, scientists can review test

procedures and make sure there was no human/mechanical errors that skewed final

results. We assume this will be among the first steps that the UK scientists

will take. Yet is it quite possible (some would say quite likely) that when the

last Bunsen burner and centrifuge is turned off, we could still be left with two

test results that point in opposite directions. And guess what, such a

situation would not be unheard of. In fact, enough European countries have

reported conflicting BSE test results (i.e., IHC versus the Western blot) that

the OIE have invented a special category of classification. Specifically, these

hard to define cases are called "atypical BSE".

Please understand, none of this argues that these tests are unreliable.

They are the best science now have available, and reliably indicate an extremely

low incidence of BSE on the North American continent. But they are certainly not

perfect with one absolutely trumping the authority of the other. The USDA

should know this and it strike us as foolish for the government to back into

what could be a no-win situation. Hopefully--now that we're down this road--the

UK lab will discover that the IHC and Western blot agree after all in terms of

negative results. But if it simply confirms that they disagree, we will have to

haul all of our former beef customers back to the classroom, drilling foreign

buyers with the critical lesson that meaningful safeguards and firewalls (e.g.,

the tanking of downers, the removal of specified risk materials) matter more

than all the tests one can imagine.



Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Montgomery, Al
"But if it simply confirms that they disagree (IHC & WB), we will have to
haul all of our former beef customers back to the classroom, drilling foreign buyers with the critical lesson that meaningful safeguards and firewalls (e.g., the tanking of downers, the removal of specified risk materials) matter more than all the tests one can imagine."

I TOTALLY disagree with this statement! We cannot be feeding positives to people, period. Although I know a few have slipped through the cracks. If people think that they might have a chance of eating an infected steak......they just won't buy anymore! We'd have to give it away.

I used to say "test them all". But if they use the wrong tests what's the use?

I cannot believe the USDA has put US (the cattleman) in this position. We should all be outraged. :mad: :mad: :mad: :mad: :mad:

Border rancher

Well-known member
Apr 3, 2005
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Ab.- Mt. border
I doubt "testing them all" would open the Japanese border to your beef. They would then come up with another excuse for not accepting the product. I"m sure there are other reasons they do not want to buy your meat, I guess we will all know in time.
It seems to me that if some people won't eat beef because of the minute danger of BSE, those same people would probably not go out in a thunderstorm, would not drive in a vehicle, fly in an airplane, eat anything that might cause cancer or or take part in any activity that could possibly cause death.
Reader (the second), I truly do sympathize with your loss. I think you are the kind of person, who, had her husband died of any disease, would have researched that disease to find out all the answers possible. Many more people die of cancer,which can also be a terrible death. I knew of one man who died of Aids(sp?), that was the worst kind of death I could ever have imagined. He apparently did not catch that disease by any of the known ways either. I have a friend whose Mother was stricken and died of CJD a few years ago. That lady and her family had no idea where or how she contracted that terrible disease. Life is often not fair, niether is death.
So far CJD has not infected nearly as many people as most of the common terrible diseases in the world.
I, and many like me, will not stop eating beef, driving, flying, eating chicken(Avian flu) until many more deaths are documented and the causes of the deaths are really known.

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