PDF _ RL32414 - The Private Testing of Mad Cow Disease: Legal Issues
16-Jun-2006; Stephen R. Viña; 18 p.

Update: August 16, 2006

Previous Releases:

Abstract: The positive identification of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, commonly known as “mad cow disease,” in a Washington State cow in December of 2003 sparked a number of reactions from the federal government, the meat industry, and close to forty countries world-wide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), for example, launched an extensive BSE sampling and surveillance program designed to test as many high-risk cattle as possible with the assistance of designated state and university diagnostic laboratories across the country. USDA implemented the new program in June of 2004, and uses USDAapproved “rapid” immunologic test kits.

Most countries, however, quickly banned the importation of United States beef following the announcement. In an effort to meet new consumer demand, some private slaughterers propose to test 100% of their cattle using USDA approved “rapid test” kits. For example, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, a private specialty producer and processor of Black Angus Beef, sought approval from the USDA to conduct voluntary BSE rapid testing for all the cattle it processes in order to promote sales, especially exports. The USDA, however, rejected Creekstone’s request primarily because the test had only been licensed for animal health “surveillance” purposes and “the test as proposed by Creekstone would have implied a consumer safety aspect that is not scientifically warranted.”

The USDA’s rejection of Creekstone’s request to privately test all of its cattle for BSE ignited a significant amount of debate and resulted in the filing of a lawsuit by Creekstone on March 23, 2006, against the USDA. At issue is whether the USDA’s decision to reject Creekstone’s request to test all of its animals for BSE was a valid agency action. This report examines the legal authority of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Protection Service to regulate all testing for BSE, particularly the voluntary testing of 100% of a private company’s animals with rapid test kits and the USDA’s recent rejection of Creekstone’s application to test all of the cattle it processes for BSE. This analysis encompasses some of the legal arguments that have and might come to fruition in Creekstone lawsuit.

This report does not discuss the possible role that the Food and Drug Administration may play in the regulation of BSE testing and surveillance. For information on the USDA and legislative activities relating to BSE, see CRS Report RL32199, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or “Mad Cow Disease”): Current and Proposed Safeguards, by Geoffrey S. Becker. This report will be updated as warranted.

 [read report]

Topics: Agriculture, Federal Agencies, Legislative

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