Saturday, June 25, 2005

Joke of the Week

The set-up:
In an announcement made Friday afternoon, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns confirmed that a second case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been found in the U.S. The latest case is believed to be in a cow from Texas, which was initially tested for the disease more than six months ago.

The second case of BSE to impact the U.S. cattle industry has come as a surprise to many in the business, as the cow was slaughtered last November. At that time the animal was determined to have first tested as inconclusive for BSE, but was later declared negative through a series of testing conducted by USDA.

However, a review by the department’s Office of the Inspector General determined that further testing was needed. Agriculture officials announced two weeks ago that the animal had once again been classified as inconclusive for BSE, and thus, additional testing would be done. USDA tested samples of the animal’s nervous tissue at a disease lab in Ames, Iowa and also had testing completed by a world-renowned lab in Weybride, England. (Josh St. Peters, Brownfield Network)
The punchline:

"The Food and Drug Administration, along with the USDA, is committed to ensuring the safety of the U.S. human food and animal feed supply from BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). Today we saw that the system worked. The safety measures that FDA and USDA have put in place successfully kept this animal that has tested positive for BSE out of the food and feed supply. These existing safeguards have proven extremely effective, and the American public should feel secure in knowing that the current animal feed rule already provides significant protection against the spread of BSE. We will continue to work closely with the USDA on this important public health issue and evaluate every option to strengthen the 1997 animal feed ban."
Update (6/25/05, 11:15 am EDST: The system worked so well, they decided to change it on Friday.
Federal officials on Friday changed how they test for mad cow disease after a British lab confirmed the ailment in a U.S. animal earlier declared free of the disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture asked for more tests only after its inspector general reported "an unusual pattern of conflicting test results" on the cow killed in November. From now on, the USDA will conduct expanded tests on any animal that fails initial screening for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said.


Confusion and mistakes caused the delay between the cow's slaughter and Friday's announcement. Two initial screening tests showed signs of the disease, which the USDA announced in November. But the agency decided it was not BSE after its Iowa lab did two more specific tests -- called immunohistochemistry, or IHC -- that were negative.

The conflicting results led the USDA's inspector general to request another kind of test, called a Western blot. The USDA ran it and another IHC earlier this month. Both were positive for BSE. So were all but one of the tests run at the world's top BSE lab in England.

Johanns revealed Friday that the Iowa lab had run a second, experimental IHC test in November that found "abnormalities." Regulators ignored the results because the test was not proven, he said. The unapproved test was one of "four areas of concern" Johanns cited Friday, along with workers inappropriately freezing the brain sample, and the Iowa lab's failure to finish paperwork on the tests. The fourth error was storing the cow's carcass with four others during testing, making the sick cow hard to identify. All five carcasses were incinerated, Johanns said.

From now on, Johanns said, the USDA will run both IHC and Western blot tests on any brain samples flagged by initial screenings. A positive result on either follow-up will be considered a BSE case, he said. (Andy Dworkin in The Oregonian)
If this system works any better, I may give up eating altogether. What would be the point?