Video: Mad cow case under scrutiny

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/27/2005 7:41:20 PM ET 2005-06-27T23:41:20

Last Friday, when U.S. officials revealed that a second animal in the United States had mad cow disease, they made it seem like a new discovery.

"We now have the test results from the lab in Weybridge, England," said Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns.

But when Dr. Michael Hansen, a mad cow expert at Consumer's Union, read the details posted on the USDA Web site, he realized there had been a positive test seven months earlier that had not been made public.

"I'd say their handling of this testing has been pretty abominable," says Hansen. "It borders on incompetence."

Monday, Johanns said that the positive test was an experimental type and that's why it was kept secret.

"It just stopped in the laboratory, is what it amounted to," says Johanns.

But Phyllis Fong, the Agriculture Department's independent inspector general, thought that was not right. She got the samples sent to England for further testing.

A former assistant secretary of agriculture says the episode is inexcusable.

"There is no public health risk here," says Carol Tucker Foreman, who served in that capacity during the Clinton administration. "But I do believe there is a serious threat to the public's trust in the government."

Consumer advocates say there are fundamental flaws in the entire U.S. response to mad cow. The United States tests for the disease far less than many countries. Japan tests every animal more than 20 months old, Europe tests one in four; the U.S. tests only one in 90.

And the advocates say that only more extensive testing can assure the public that American beef is safe.

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