11/1/2008online: 11/1/2008

BSE Testing Hot Topic on “Boston Legal”


By Sara Brown, Livestock and production editor 


Source of Article:  http://www.agweb.com/get_article.aspx?pageid=146835

With the hubbub of the election, you might have missed ABC’s “Boston Legal” tackling the beef industry. Followers of the show are associated with character Denny Crain (William Shatner)’s long battle with “mad-cow disease” and Allan Shore (James Spader)’s ability to ramble into making a point in convincing argument.

Last night’s episode centered on cattle rancher Carol Hober (Valerie Bertinelli) suing the USDA for not allowing her to test every animal on her ranch for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). During testimony, Bertinelli’s character accused the USDA of catering to corporate meat packers who are against the cost of mandatory testing, while 65 countries impose trade restrictions on U.S. beef.

“That’s the policy at my ranch. We want to test every cow so we can be safe. How dare the federal government say I can’t do so,” Hober said on the stand.

“Mrs. Hober, I would argue that the federal government would say testing every cow is not necessary,” Hober’s lawyer, Shore said.

“So what?” Hober said. “Why should they prohibit us from doing so if we are willing to bear the expense? It’s ludicrous.”

Proponents for USDA on the show revealed BSE testing can only detect the disease shortly before the animal exhibits symptoms—which for most U.S. cattle is after the typical age of slaughter.

“First of all, testing can’t detect mad cow disease until shortly before the cow develops symptoms. Cattle are typically slaughtered at 24 months of age—that is long before the disease is detectable. Look, all this testing, testing, testing talk, the reality is, testing can’t make a difference,” said the proponent for USDA.

When asked why to bother with testing in the first place, the USDA representative replied “Well, I guess it is possible it could help. And let’s face it, the public wants to feel safe. So the testing gives them some confidence in the meat industry—that’s a good thing.”

During Shore’s cross examination, the USDA representative said that allowing some ranchers like Hober advertise the fact they test all of their animals would make the rest of the beef industry look unsafe.

In the end, the judge ruled in favor of Hober, allowing her to continue testing cattle and advertising that fact to consumers.

The beef and other livestock industries have been at the fore-front of the entertainment industry, most recently when Oprah on Oct. 14 explored the housing and handling of U.S. livestock.



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