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Consumer Food Safety Groups Give Feds 'D' on Mad Cow Efforts

WASHINGTON, DC - Seven consumer food safety groups gave the Bush Administration a grade of D for its efforts to prevent the spread of Mad Cow disease six months since the affliction was found in the United States.

Seven public interest organizations with more than 5 million members released a report card rating the administration's performance. The groups assessed 10 key actions needed to prevent the disease including testing, feed restrictions, animal identification and tracking, prevention of the human version of the disease and whether the administration has been following its own rules.

The groups are: Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Government Accountability Project, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy -Action and Public Citizen.

"When it comes to something as serious as Mad Cow disease, the public expects the Bush Administration to earn more than a marginal grade," Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, an organization that addresses health and environmental impacts of agriculture, said in the groups' announcement.

"The Bush administration has barely earned a D in mastering the A, B, Cs of Mad Cow prevention," observed Andrew Kimbrell, director of the Center for Food Safety. "Our message to President Bush is that it's time to do your homework and solve this serious public health problem. The solutions are straight forward, but the consequences of failure are severe."

Julie Quick, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was quoted by the news media as disagreeing with the groups' findings. "We've been addressing these issues over a decade and we're committed to protecting public health," she said.

Quick pointed out several improvements including prohibiting the use in food for human consumption of brain or spinal cord tissue from cattle over 30 months in age, which are at higher risk of mad cow disease.

The USDA this month expanded national testing for the disease with the aim of checking about 220,000 animals over the next year to 18 months. Last year, it conducted mad cow tests on tissues from 20,543 animals, nearly all cattle that could not stand or walk and had to be dragged to slaughter.

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