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USDA gives consumers a false sense of security about U.S. beef

Ann Veneman, Agriculture Secretary in the Bush Administration, made the following statement in a 2004 news conference: "scientific evidence shows that only nervous tissue like brain and spinal cord can carry the infectious agent" for mad cow disease.

Not so, according to Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the neurologist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1997 for first describing prions, the misshapen proteins believed to cause the devastating disease. "We don't know where and how prions move through the [cow's] body before they show up in its brain," he told a New York Times reporter.

This means that the disease may be transmitted by eating other parts of a cow besides the nervous tissue—including the meat. Dr. Prusiner has devised a test to find out exactly where prions are located, but according to the New York Times article, "That experiment has not been done..." The USDA's new safeguards requiring that "specified risk material" be removed from the food supply do not appear to be broad enough.

(The New York Times, Sunday, January, 2004 "Jumble of Tests May Slow Mad Cow Solution," Sandra Blakeslee, p. 10.)

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