Audit says USDA lost track of imported cattle
By Stephen J. Hedges
Despite persistent fears of mad cow disease in Canadian
beef, the Department of Agriculture has failed to properly track hundreds of
Canadian cattle coming into the
An audit, completed in March but only recently made public, said that some of the imported cattle did not have proper identification or health records despite federal regulations requiring them.
The audit did not say how many cattle were improperly brought into the U.S. and inspector general spokesman Paul Feeney said auditors are not sure of that number. The report said that a lack of records meant that "it cannot be determined" whether shipments other than those discovered "have bypassed inspection or whether this is a systemic problem."
About 1 million cattle were imported into the
The audit mainly faulted Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service for failing to properly check records as the cattle crossed the Canadian border.
"APHIS does not adequately track live animal imports and, if problems are detected, does not collectively analyze import violations," the report said. "Additional controls are needed at northern ports-of-entry to obtain stronger assurance that all animal shipments are inspected."
Mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a disease that attacks a cow's nervous system. Medical researchers also believe that humans who eat meat infected with BSE can contract a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is fatal.
When mad cow was first discovered in Canada in 2003, the USDA cut off all Canadian cattle imports, as did many other countries.
But despite years of precautions,
The American beef industry also suffered a financial setback after many countries banned
The USDA began testing suspect cattle in 2004, and about 400,000 cattle a year were tested. But in 2006 top USDA officials argued that the risk of mad cow disease was minimal, and testing was scaled back to about 40,000 head a year. About 97 million head of cattle are in the
In 2005, the Agriculture Department began to allow imports of Canadian cattle, which are cheaper than
There were import restrictions, though. The USDA first allowed only Canadian cattle younger than 30 months old, since mad cow is believed to fully afflict only older cattle.
But in November the department also began to allow older cattle, arguing that no new mad cow cases have been discovered in the
Karen Eggert, an APHIS spokeswoman, said the audit covered a period in 2006, before older cattle were allowed into the
Those conditions include health and identification procedures, sealed trucks, permanent markings on cattle and restrictions on their movement once in the
Eggert said that her agency disagrees with some of the audit's findings but that "other recommendations have provided us with sound ideas."
In one instance, the audit concluded, 211 cattle entered the
In another, auditors found that 161 "animal shipments gained unauthorized entry into the
The audit also found that 436 cattle and 9,000 hogs were sent to the
Critics of the Agriculture Department's mad cow policies said the audit bolsters their call to ban imports. A cattle producers group,
"We know that
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