Despite USDA efforts, info on mad cow tests leaking out
Agency tries to keep a lid on test results, but publications report details.
The Agriculture Department appeared Wednesday to have lost control over the release of information on the tests of two animals for mad cow disease, and the disclosures have drawn the interest of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
On Friday, USDA announced that a "rapid" test on a cow in its newly broadened surveillance program showed an "inconclusive" result for mad cow disease. The USDA refused to release information on the age or location of the cow, but said tissue samples had been sent to the federal laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for further tests.
Cattle Buyer's Weekly, a California publication, reported Monday that the animal was a 16- to 17-month-old dairy cow and that the test may have been conducted at the University of California at Davis.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Minneapolis agribusiness publication Feedstuffs reported that a USDA official had said that a second "rapid" test on the cow had proven negative. Late Tuesday, USDA sent an e-mail to agriculture reporters that a second cow had tested "inconclusive," but did not release the age or location of that cow either.
Later Tuesday evening, Cattle Buyer's Weekly reported it was 8 years old, which means it would have been born before feed laws were changed in 1997 to prevent the ruminant-to-ruminant feed that is believed to spread mad cow disease.
The uncertainty of those tests and questions about consumer confidence drove cattle futures markets down Monday by the limit allowed by trading rules, and those markets dropped sharply lower Tuesday and Wednesday. Alan Sobba, the commission's director of external relations, told CongressDaily the key issue is whether the markets were acting on rumor or fact.
Sobba said the commission does not try to police rumors and has no views on what information should be released. But he added that "if the USDA has a factual piece of information, when they release it they should get out to people at the same time. Our concern is that the information not get into the marketplace in a dribble manner, but in a consistent manner. We will obviously be in touch with them."
Julie Quick, a spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, declined to comment on the Cattle Buyer's Weekly story. Steve Kay, editor of the publication, declined to state whether he had received his information from a private source or from a USDA official.