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U.S. beef producer sues USDA to seek blanket BSE testing

Old 03-24-06, 10:37 PM
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U.S. beef producer sues USDA to seek blanket BSE testing

Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef LLC filed a lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking permission to voluntarily test all its cattle for mad cow disease in line with requests by Japanese and other customers.

The major U.S. producer, known for its high-quality Black Angus beef, said the USDA has even threatened with ''criminal prosecution'' if it performs the blanket tests for the brain-wasting illness, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, while repeatedly refusing over two years to allow it.

The complaint was filed with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia. It is the first such lawsuit in the United States, thus rekindling debate here about BSE testing that may also affect the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Japanese governments toward Japan resuming imports of American beef.

The company has been lobbying for USDA permission since Japan imposed an import ban on U.S. beef in December 2003, when the United States discovered its first BSE case.

Creekstone Farms Chief Executive Officer and Founder John Stewart said his company has no intention of interfering with the negotiations and contesting the USDA's claims that such testing has ''no scientific grounds,'' may send a ''wrong signal'' that all tested beef products are completely safe, and may also reduce consumers confidence that beef is free of BSE.

The company is taking the move to ''satisfy customers'' and their requests for testing, mainly in Japan, which is continuing to carry out blanket testing of all slaughtered cattle, to give them ''an additional level of confidence,'' Stewart said, stressing that he is not talking about scientific facts on BSE tests.

Stewart said some other U.S. meatpackers support Creekstone Farms' move and are likely to soon follow suit to seek permission for the blanket testing.

Kansas Gov. Kathlene Sebelius has also expressed her backing of the company's voluntary attempt, Stewart said.

Taking the USDA's side, however, many large U.S. meatpackers remain opposed to blanket testing, which will cost them heavily as Japan was the largest importer of American beef before the import ban was imposed in 2003.

Steward said the cost for the testing, including procurement of test kits, is about $20 per head, or about 10 cents a pound (about 0.45 kilogram) in retail price.

In Tokyo, the Japanese government said it will closely watch developments of the lawsuit, but stressed that it has no intention of reviving its demand that the United States test all cattle for exports to Japan.

The USDA has refused to accept Tokyo's blanket-testing demand, thus eventually leading Japan to cave in and even to ease its domestic blanket-test requirements despite strong opposition, mainly among consumer groups.

Stewart said, ''In a country where free enterprise, satisfying consumers, building businesses through thoughtful marketing and innovation are encouraged, I find it very difficult to understand why our government would not be supportive of this important effort.''

In the filed complaint, the company said its ''ability to continue to sell to Japan and other foreign markets, which constituted a major portion of Creekstone's customer base,....has been compromised by its inability to offer to test cattle from which it would supply those foreign markets.''

Before Japan imposed the ban, Creekstone Farms exported about 30 percent of its products, and shipments to Japan accounted for 70 percent of the exports.

Under a compromise deal reached with the United States allowing no BSE testing, Japan lifted the two-year-old ban in December on condition that imports would be limited to meat from cattle aged up to 20 months with the brains, spinal cords and other specified BSE-risk materials removed prior to shipment.

But Japan reimposed the ban on U.S. beef only after a month on Jan. 20 because backbone material, prohibited under the agreed requirements, was discovered in a veal shipment at Narita airport.

In the process of lifting its original ban, the Japanese government eased its domestic requirements to exclude cattle aged up to 20 months from BSE testing to pave the way for resuming imports of U.S. and Canadian beef.
But local authorities are continuing the blanket testing of all slaughtered cattle in Japan.

The USDA tests a small percentage of the total cattle herd under a given statistical background. But samples are mostly submitted on a voluntary contract basis, and the department is now planning to scale down the surveillance system.


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Old 03-24-06, 11:42 PM
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That's just unbelievable.

While some beef companies will put up a fierce fight to block any sensible USDA standards such as not allowing cows to eat its own kind, this beef company actually WANTS its beef tested to prove that it is safe and the USDA is trying to stop that? Just insane!

Geoff and all the veggie people are going to come here and say "You see?"
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Old 03-24-06, 11:51 PM
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I heard about this and I thought it was a joke.

The Gov <--
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Old 03-25-06, 12:23 AM
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That's just stupid. Is there any other example of a company that wants to impose heavy self regulation and the government won't let them? I hope they win in court. I can't see how they could lose, but I also didn't see where it would ever be legal for governments to take land to give to private companies for tax base.

Hell, I don't even think Mad Cow Disease is a big deal, and that makes this even more stupid.
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Old 03-25-06, 12:26 AM
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the USDA's claims that such testing has ''no scientific grounds,'' may send a ''wrong signal'' that all tested beef products are completely safe, and may also reduce consumers confidence that beef is free of BSE.
Has the labeling of certain foods as "organic" hurt consumer confidence in those that do not have the label?

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