- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

President Bush plans a nearly fourfold increase in federal spending to prevent mad cow disease, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said yesterday.

The president will ask Congress for $60 billion in his 2005 budget to cover increased mad cow testing, development of a national animal identification system, and other monitoring and surveillance efforts, she said at the cattle industry’s annual trade show in Phoenix.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is the scientific name for mad cow disease, a malady that fatally attacks the central nervous system of cattle. People can contract a variant of the disease by eating infected tissue.

Mrs. Veneman disclosed on Dec. 23 the only case in the United States, an announcement that quickly sent cattle futures down 20 percent and cost the industry foreign markets worth more than $3 billion annually.

The Bush administration has worked promptly to reassure the public and trade partners that mad cow prevention efforts in the United States are adequate, and that the U.S. beef supply is safe.

Mrs. Veneman announced on Dec. 30 a series of steps to prevent the disease from spreading to humans, and the Food and Drug Administration this week issued measures to regulate animal feed and some consumer goods.

Many farmers and ranchers have complimented the administration on a quick and continuing response, but the praise is not unanimous. Consumer groups have been especially critical of holes in the prevention measures.

“They are definitely doing more, but they should have taken these actions years ago. And they still haven’t gone far enough,” said Michael Hansen, senior research associate at the Consumers Union, the nonprofit testing and information organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine.

The U.S. Agriculture Department, for example, does not test nearly enough animals for mad cow disease and still has not taken adequate measures to keep potentially tainted tissue out of the human food chain, he said.

The FDA’s feed regulations still leave large loopholes that could allow mad cow into the animal food chain, Mr. Hansen said.

Mrs. Veneman said yesterday that top spending priorities include the following:

• $33 million to accelerate a national animal identification system that would allow livestock to be tracked from birth to slaughter.

• $17 million toward testing 40,000 animals for mad cow disease at rendering plants and on farms. The number of tests will be roughly double the 2003 total.

• $5 million for research and development of new mad cow testing technologies that would allow quicker results. The main U.S. lab now needs about two weeks.

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