Feds 'Hiding Mad Cow Cases'
American Records Not Credible, Former Packing Plant Vet Says
By Duncan Thorne
The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - A former American government packing plant veterinarian says the United States government is hiding cases of mad cow disease.
Dr. Lester Friedlander said Wednesday that colleagues with the United States Department of Agriculture have told him of cases that the USDA has chosen not to announce.
Friedlander, who has been invited to speak to Parliament's agriculture committee next week on proposed changes to Canadian inspection legislation, refused to give details. He said the USDA employees are close to retirement and risk losing their pensions.
He has previously spoken out, however, about a Texas cow that had mad cow symptoms and went untested to a rendering plant after a USDA veterinarian condemned it at a packing plant in San Angelo.
MAD COW CASES IN U.S.
There have been U.S. news reports that just three cows processed by the plant were tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy over two years. The plant, Lone Star Beef, processes older dairy cows considered at higher risk of carrying BSE.
Friedlander said it's not credible that the USDA has found just one BSE case and only in a cow that entered the United States from Alberta rather than being raised in the U.S.
"You've found four cases (including a cow from Alberta discovered in Washington state with the disease) out of 12 million cattle and the United States has found none out of 120 million," Friedlander said in an interview during a speaking visit to Edmonton.
He said production practices in the two countries are similar enough that the USDA should be finding more BSE cases.
NEW AGENCY NEEDED
Friedlander was in charge of meat inspectors at the largest U.S. culled-cow packing plant, in Pennsylvania, until 1995. He lost his job for, in his words, "doing too good a job."
He has since become a public speaker on food and animal safety issues. He was in Edmonton as a guest of the Edmonton Friends of the North Environmental Society.
The USDA's record looks worse than the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's but Canada needs a new "consumer" agency to oversee packing plant inspections, he added. He said the USDA and CFIA both suffer from having too much influence from politicians eager to please the food industry. His proposed consumer agency would be a government body but would have more safeguards against political influence.
Marc Richard, speaking from Ottawa for the CFIA, said the agency enforces rules set by Parliament and does its job well.
He said it reports to Agriculture Minister Andrew Mitchell and a replacement government agency would have to do the same.
Friedlander also warned against intensive livestock operations, such as cattle feedlots and large hog operations. He said they are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and disease, and authorities have tended to react slowly when there's an outbreak.
Delayed reaction to avian flu last year at a British Columbia poultry operation led to a large and costly outbreak, he said.
John Feddes, an agricultural engineer at the University of Alberta, said the province's confined feeding operations are generally run well, under stringent rules. Large hog operations, Feddes said, are clean.
"Just because they're large doesn't mean they're going to be out of control."
Dr. Gerald Ollis, Alberta Agriculture's chief veterinarian, said confined feeding ops tend to have well-educated people in charge and are big enough that they can have vets visit more often than at smaller farms.
Ollis added that his experience of CFIA inspections is that they are done well.
He was not aware of reports of limited BSE testing at the Texas packing plant, but said the USDA is concentrating its tests at high-throughput operations.
Scientist Stands Behind
Mad Cow Coverup Claim
Offers To Take Lie Detector Test
By Dennis Bueckert
OTTAWA (CP) - A scientist and former inspector for the U.S Agriculture Department says he's willing to take a lie detector test to back his claim that his government is covering up mad cow disease.
Lester Friedlander, now a consumer advocate, was fired from his job as head of inspections at a large meat-packing plant in Philadelphia in 1995 after criticizing what he called unsafe practices.
Friedlander said he knows U.S. Agriculture Department veterinarians who sent suspect cow brains to private laboratories that confirmed mad cow infection, but samples from the same animals were cleared by government labs.
"It's several veterinarians that have given me similar stories about sending cow brains in," he said in an interview Tuesday. "It might be shocking for Canadians but it wouldn't be shocking for veterinarians that have worked for the USDA.
"I'm willing to back this up with a voice stress analysis test or even a lie detector test."
Friedlander wouldn't name the veterinarians, saying they still work for the Agriculture Department and would be fired if identified.
The department has denied Friedlander's allegations, which were first reported last week.
Rob McNabb, a spokesman for the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said it does seem puzzling that four mad cow cases have been detected in Canadian-born cattle but none in U.S.-born cattle.
"It's true that the risk . . . is very similar, and it is surprising," he said.
There are 120 million cattle in the United States, 15 million in Canada.
"I guess there's always going to be people raising the question, 'How come it's 4-0?'," he said.
But McNabb wouldn't comment on Friedlander's allegations.
Michael Hansen, a scientist with the U.S. Consumers Union in Washington, said there's widespread suspicion about the testing of three suspected cases of mad cow in U.S. cattle.
Hansen said all tests came back negative in the three cases but the USDA used a rapid test based on immuno-histochemistry, not the Western blot test which is considered most reliable.
"Many of the top scientists think that's insane," he said of the use of the less reliable test.
He said there are also suspicions about a recent case in St. Angelo, Tex., when officials at an abattoir noticed a cow was staggering and wanted it tested, but permission was refused.
"The federal inspectors and the plant employees all wanted to test the animal and basically (the USDA) said, 'Nah, we're not going to do that.' So the animal was sent to rendering and was never tested."
Hansen said there appears to be a great lack of eagerness to detect mad cow in the United States.
A study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis three years ago concluded there was a 20 per cent chance that mad cow was present in the United States.
The U.S. government closed its border to live cattle imports from Canada in 2003 after a single Canadian cow tested positive for the disease. Three other Canadian cases have been confirmed since then, one in a Washington State cow that originally came from Canada.
The border was to reopen to live cattle March 7 this year but that was delayed by a challenge from a U.S. cattle industry lobby group.
Friedlander was in Ottawa to testify at a Commons committee examining proposed changes to the Canadian food regulation system.