Meatpacker Sparks Mad Cow Testing Fight By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Kansas meatpacker has sparked an industry fight by proposing testing all the company's cattle for mad cow disease.
Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to look for the disease in every animal it processes. The Agriculture Department has said no. Creekstone says it intends to sue the department.
''Our customers, particularly our Asian customers, have requested it over and over again,'' chief executive John Stewart said in an interview Wednesday. ''We feel strongly that if customers are asking for tested beef, we should be allowed to provide that.''
Creekstone planned a news conference Thursday in Washington to discuss the lawsuit.
The department and larger meat companies oppose comprehensive testing, saying it cannot assure food safety. Testing rarely detects the disease in younger animals, the source of most meat.
''There isn't any nation in the world that requires 100 percent testing,'' department spokesman Ed Loyd said Wednesday.
Larger companies worry that Japanese buyers would insist on costly testing and that a suspect result might scare consumers away from eating beef.
Japan was the most lucrative foreign market for American beef until the first U.S. case of mad cow disease prompted a ban in 2003. The ban cost Creekstone nearly one-third of its sales and led the company to slash production and lay off about 150 people, Stewart said.
When Japan reopened its market late last year, Creekstone resumed shipments. Japan has halted shipments again, after finding American veal cuts with backbone. These cuts are eaten in the U.S. but are banned in Japan.
Stewart said that when trade resumes with Japan, Creekstone is in a position to rehire the laid-off workers and then some.
Creekstone would need government certification for its plan to test each animal at its Arkansas City, Kan., plant. The department refused the license request in 2004.
The U.S. has been testing around 1 percent of the 35 million head of cattle slaughtered each year, although officials have been planning to scale back that level of testing.
An industry official said the U.S. testing program should reassure customers inside and outside the United States.
''The U.S. risk of BSE is miniscule and declining, our proactive prevention strategies have worked and the safety of American beef is assured,'' said J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute.
He was referring to the formal name for mad cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.
While individual companies in Japan may want comprehensive testing, Japan's government is not asking for it.
Japan does have lingering questions about the shipment of prohibited veal, even after the U.S. sent a lengthy report to Tokyo explaining the mistake was an isolated incident. The report blamed the company, Brooklyn-based Atlantic Veal & Lamb, and a government inspector for misunderstanding new rules for selling beef to Japan.
Japan's agriculture minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, said Wednesday that further talks are needed.
''We do want to keep going back and forth with the U.S. over this issue,'' he said. ''We want the U.S. side to squarely answer our questions.''
The Agriculture Department announced Wednesday evening it will send a team led by Acting Under Secretary Chuck Lambert to Tokyo next week for talks.
The U.S. has had three cases of mad cow disease. The first appeared in December 2003 in a Washington state cow that had been imported from Canada. The second was confirmed last June in a Texas-born cow, and the third was confirmed last week in an Alabama cow.
Japan has had two dozen cases of BSE. Mad cow disease is a brain-wasting ailment in cattle. In people, eating meat products contaminated with BSE is linked to more than 150 deaths worldwide, mostly in Britain, from a deadly human nerve disorder, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
Reuters--Japan says US suit won't change beef trade rules By Aya Takada
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said on Friday beef trade rules between Japan and the United States won't be affected by a lawsuit filed by a U.S. firm against the U.S. government over mad cow testing.
Creekstone Farms Premium Beef LLC filed a suit earlier in the week against the U.S. Agriculture Department for refusing to allow the Kansas company to voluntarily test its cattle for mad cow disease.
The company wants to test all its slaughter cattle for the fatal disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), so that it can prove to customers, especially in Japan, that its beef is safe.
In Japan all cattle slaughtered for food have been tested for BSE since October 2001 as a way of excluding infected animals from the food chain. After the central government dropped its blanket testing policy last August, all local governments have voluntarily continued universal testing to meet consumer demand.
Nakagawa said he understands Creekstone's eagerness to regain access to the Japanese market, which has been shut to American beef since January 20 when Japanese inspectors discovered banned spinal material in a shipment of U.S. veal.
The suspension came just a month after Japan partially lifted a two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imposed over mad cow disease fears. Before the ban, Japan was the top importer of U.S. beef, buying 240,000 tonnes valued at $1.4 billion in 2003.
But Nakagawa added that Japan cannot give preferential treatment to the company as the Japanese and U.S. governments have already set beef trade rules that do not require Washington to conduct universal testing on slaughter cattle for BSE.
"We don't deny their efforts to adapt themselves to the Japanese system at a high cost, but how can we make exceptions of them?" Nakagawa asked at a news conference.
Under the beef trade agreement between the two governments, U.S. companies must remove specified risk materials that could spread mad cow disease, such as spinal cords, from cattle of all ages before the meat is shipped to Japan. They also cannot export beef from animals older than 20 months.
USDA has opposed private BSE testing of cattle, saying it is too costly and cannot be justified scientifically.
But consumer groups in the United States and Japan have applauded the action by Creekstone and urged Washington to allow the company to test all its cattle for mad cow disease.
"We hope this case will eventually force the U.S. government to tighten its rules over mad cow testing," said Hiroko Mizuhara, secretary general of the Consumers Union of Japan.
Currently the USDA is drawing up plans to scale down its mad cow testing program that found two of the three U.S. cases of the disease, including one this month.
To press for the reopening of the Japanese market to U.S. beef, USDA will send a technical team to Japan for a meeting with Japanese counterparts next week. Nakagawa said the ministry has not yet set the date for a meeting with USDA officials.
Nakagawa also said he wants USDA officials to fully answer Japanese questions about the veal shipment before they move a step closer to a possible resumption of U.S. beef imports.
"I hope we can have a meaningful meeting to move us forward," Nakagawa told reporters.
Japan has said it could not allow imports to restart until Washington found the cause of the violation and took measures to prevent a recurrence.
Selected News Articles About the Filing of Creekstone Farms Premium Beef’s Lawsuit To Force USDA To Allow Creekstone To Test its Cattle for Mad Cow Disease (Russell Frye is the lead counsel in that case)