U.S. is working to persuade trading partners to lift beef ban

Critics seek law to ban lame cattle for use as food


WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman told a House committee yesterday that the government has responded effectively to an outbreak of mad cow disease and is working hard to persuade trading partners to reopen markets to U.S. beef.

"U.S. beef is safe for consumers in the United States and around the world, and we are urging our trading partners to base their decisions on science," Veneman told the House Agriculture Committee.

At the same time, congressional critics prepared legislation that would prohibit lame or injured cattle from being slaughtered for human consumption. The legislation is similar to a ban Veneman imposed Dec. 30, one week after the nation's first case of the disease was confirmed in a lame Holstein cow in Washington state.

Veneman's order banned the sale of meat for human consumption from animals too sick or injured to stand or walk unassisted.

She also moved to toughen regulations that ban tissue from the central nervous system out of the food supply. That tissue has been shown to be a likely carrier of the disease.

Despite Veneman's action, lawmakers said the ban on so-called downer cattle must be written into law to ensure that it isn't ignored or weakened in the future.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, co-author of a Senate bill authorizing the ban, said if the measure had been approved last year the outbreak in Washington would have been avoided.

"Those who did not favor this legislation or worked to stop it did no favor to consumers or to the industry that is now reeling from this and will be reeling for some time," she said, noting that the Washington state Holstein was taken to slaughter even though it was crippled.

Studies have shown that lame or injured cattle are 48 times more likely to carry mad cow disease than healthy cattle.

Despite U.S. assurances and heavy lobbying, Japan and other major importers of U.S. beef have not allowed American meat to be sold.

In fact on Tuesday, Japan ordered meat wholesalers not to sell 862 tons of American T-bone steaks and other beef products imported before Japan imposed a ban in reaction to the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States.

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