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Corvallis, OR, United States
My personal obsession with prion diseases with smidges of music I like and rescue dog advocacy from a disabled Oregonian.


Song in my head:  For we were young and sure to have our way....Mary Hopkins
My little town, Hood River, was recently written up in
Outside magazine as one of America's top "Dream Towns".  In that light........
LUBA [Land Use Board of Appeals] rejects Wal-Mart appeal

Wal-Mart has lost its bid to have the state overturn Hood River County’s denial of site plans for a supercenter.

On Friday, the Land Use Board of Appeals upheld the Jan. 5 local ruling against the application for a 186,000 square foot store. The development was proposed for 16 acres of property at the junction of Frankton and Country Club roads. But LUBA determined that the county had grounds to turn down the building because it would be two to three times larger than any other structure in the area. Link


Mad Cow Moos

U.S.D.A.'s Testing Problem

In the past seven months - ever since a case of mad-cow disease was discovered in Washington State - the United States Department of Agriculture has been working hard to reduce the risk of the disease spreading. It is slowly introducing restrictions on how the most susceptible bovine tissues can be used, and it has found money to begin developing a national animal-identification system. But there are still gaps in the department's efforts to guarantee a safe meat supply. One is chronological. America squandered a decade in which it could have been absorbing the lessons learned from the British mad-cow crisis. The other critical failing is the U.S.D.A.'s testing program itself. Link

Not a good review for the USDA. 

AMI [American Meat Institute]: U.S. response to BSE extraordinary; reflects decade of planning, preparation: Firewalls, surveillance program exceed international standards

The U.S. response to a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been extraordinary and reflects more than a decade of planning and foresight, according to AMI Foundation President James H. Hodges. Hodges submitted written testimony today in advance of a joint hearing of The House Committee on Government Reform and House Committee on Agriculture, where he will testify tomorrow.According to Hodges, “The U.S. remains a very low risk country. Despite speculation to the contrary, the facts show that our risk level is many orders of magnitude lower than Europe's,” Hodges said. “We will not experience the animal disease epidemic or the number of human illnesses that occurred in the U.K. because we took preventive steps to protect both human and animal health. For more than 15 years, we have learned and adopted interventions based on the U.K.'s experience.” It is noteworthy that within a week of the first BSE case in the U.S. on December 23, 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a comprehensive action plan to strengthen BSE firewalls implemented a decade earlier. “Clearly, USDA had considered the possibility of BSE and had an action plan ready, which was announced with record speed. Not only was the timing of the announcement impressive, so too was its scope.” Link

Lets look at some other Mad Cow news and see if their opinions reflect the American Meat Institute's.

Agricultural Dept.'s Inspector General calls mad cow testing plan seriously flawed

A harshly critical draft report by USDA's inspector general, released yesterday by Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat who has long been a critic of the department, was cited as saying that the Agriculture Department's new testing plan for mad cow disease, which calls for testing up to 220,000 cows by the end of 2005, is seriously flawed and will result in "questionable estimates" of the prevalence of the disease in the nation's cattle, and that the sampling that began June 1 was not random "because participation in the program is voluntary." Link


Novel technology that reduces infectious prions `mad cow disease' from blood unveiled at International Transfusion Meeting

Pall Corporation (NYSE: PLL) unveiled an innovative, proprietary technology that reduces prions from blood prior to a transfusion at the annual meeting of the International Society for Blood Transfusion (ISBT) in Edinburgh, Scotland today. The soon to be released Leukotrap(R) Affinity Prion Reduction Filter will provide the dual benefit of reducing harmful white blood cells while also reducing infectious prions, the rogue proteins that cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD). The Company presented the latest animal model research results in anticipation of launching the new filter in Europe in early 2005, where the problem of vCJD, the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease, is most critical.

Why is this important?

The specter of prion transmission from human-to-human via a blood transfusion came to the forefront in December 2003 when a case of vCJD was identified in a person who received a blood transfusion six years earlier from a donor who later died of the disease. Since vCJD has an unknown, albeit lengthy, incubation period that is asymptomatic, there is no way to know how many people already have the disease and how many could have already transmitted it via blood transfusion. Link


USDA to spot-check its mad cow testing program
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman was cited as saying in testimony prepared for Congress on Wednesday that the U.S. Agriculture Department will launch a nationwide review to make sure its stepped-up testing program for mad cow disease is being carried out properly, beginning on Thursday at USDA headquarters, "proceeding to regional and state offices later this month. Over a four to six week period, AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) will conduct on-site assessments of random locations where surveillance activities occur, with a report issued within four weeks afterward. These assessments will be on-going."  (Link via FSNet Listserv, by subscription)

Inspector General details flaws in mad cow testing
Phyllis K. Fong, the U.S. Agriculture Department's inspector general, was cited as testifying Wednesday at a joint session of two House committees, Government Reform and Agriculture, that her investigation of two well-known incidents involving testing for mad cow disease had uncovered no criminal or intentional misconduct, but that the cases illustrated what could go wrong in the vastly expanded federal inspection program begun last month.Ms. Fong is independent of Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and was not appointed by her. At Wednesday's hearing, Ms. Veneman was cited as defending the testing program, including its voluntary nature, which is criticized in the report, and that its statistical basis was sound and noted that the department had been congratulated on the plan by the head of a team of international experts. The stories explain that two incidents Ms. Fong discussed were those of the dairy cow in Moses Lake, Wash., that became the country's lone case of mad cow disease, last Dec. 23, and another in which a cow slaughtered in Texas in April was not tested even though it had symptoms of a brain disease. (Link via FsNet listserv)


Witnesses in BSE hearing say surveillance system comprehensive

Experts Note that Animal Disease Testing Is Not Related to Food Safety

Two panels of experts today - including AMI Foundation President Jim Hodges --testified about the U.S. BSE surveillance system in a joint hearing of theHouse Committee on Government Reform and the House Committee on Agriculture.Despite some debate about testing methodology, consensus was clear: the U.S.surveillance system is comprehensive and will detect BSE, if it is present in herds, with a high degree of statistical confidence. Agriculture SecretaryAnn Veneman noted that many concerns raised in a draft Office of the Inspector Office of the InspectorGeneral Report released prematurely yesterday by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) have already been addressed and changes implemented.Veneman tried to offer some perspective on actions that have been taken to enhance food safety in the wake of the first case of BSE in the U.S. "When you remove SRMs (specified risk materials) from the food supply...that is the most important thing you do to protect the public health."Harvard Center for Risk Assessment Director Dr. George Gray agreed:"Surveillance is not a public health measure." In discussions about which animals are tested and how many, USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins explained that it makes the most sense to test animals that you know are at risk for the disease - not those that have never been shown to have it, like young animals he called the approach "biased sampling." Harvard's Gray said he "fundamentally agreed with the approach of looking at high risk animals."AMI Foundation President Jim Hodges said BSE testing is not related to food safety. Current test methods can only detect the disease a maximum of six months prior to clinical onset of the disease. The youngest case diagnosed last year in Europe occurred in an animal that was 50 months of age, which means the disease could not have been detected with existing testing methods until the animal was almost four years old. "Testing young animals is scientifically indefensible," Hodges said. He noted that one leading BSE expert said that testing young animals constitutes "veterinary malpractice." (Link via FSNet listserv, by subscription)



Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi was cited as expressing caution Friday about ending blanket testing for mad cow disease in Japan, saying such a policy change needs to be based on scientific grounds.Sakaguchi, who introduced the testing on all slaughtered cattle in 2001 following the first outbreak of the disease in the country, was quoted as telling a press conference that, "We have to think about people's feeling as well as scientific issues. We will examine whether we can provide data that reassure consumers. I made a decision on (introducing) the blanket testing. I am opposed to a hasty review." Link


Like the tests themselves, impact of House hearing on BSE 'inconclusive'

At least most of the people providing testimony at Wednesday's House hearings on the Department of Agriculture's expanded BSE surveillance program knew the score.Sad to say, some of the elected representatives dishing out the questions to the industry and government officials present unfortunately fixated on secondary and even non-issues in their quest to talk tough and sound sincere.


No epidemic predicted

Experts believe that more cases of BSE will be found in the United States but the disease will not become an epidemic. According to mathematical models, more cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy will be found in the United States. However, BSE expert Dr. Will Hueston, of the University of Minnesota's Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, said the number of cases will be small compared to the number detected in Europe between the late 1980s and early 1990s. He made his comments at the Institute of Food Technologists meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, last week. Link


Second possible UK case of vCJD transfer via blood 

Britain, according to this story, extended restrictions on blood donations on Thursday after a second person was suspected of being infected with the human form of mad cow disease through a blood transfusion.The Department of Health was quoted as saying in a statement on its Web site that, "A second case of possible transmission of vCJD from person to person via blood transfusion has now been confirmed by the National CJD Surveillance Unit," adding that the unidentified patient, now dead, received a blood transfusion in 1999 from a donor who later went on to develop vCJD. Link

Japan Agrees Tests May Not Find BSE in Young Cattle (Update1)

U.S. and Japanese experts have agreed that current tests can't detect mad cow disease in younger cattle, a development that may lead Japan to resume purchases of U.S. beef, valued at more than $1 billion a year.
The agreement is part of a report produced during two days of technical discussions in Tokyo this week and released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Japan has insisted that the U.S. test all 35 million cattle it slaughters annually for mad cow disease, or otherwise provide assurances its beef is safe, before lifting its ban on U.S. shipments.


Beef groups to press USDA for private BSE tests 

A group of U.S. cattle industry producers and companies plans, according to this story, to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the right to test all their cattle for mad cow disease to comply with demands by Asian customers who currently are refusing to buy U.S. beef.Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, one member of the budding coalition challenging the USDA, was quoted as saying, "A lawsuit is definitely an option."The story notes that Japan has insisted that it will not ease its ban until the United States tests each cow or steer carcass for BSE, as is the practice in Japan.Link


U.S. study supports reopening border to live Canadian cattle

A risk assessment study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to this story, supports reopening the border to live Canadian cattle. Link

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