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Inside Politics

Democrats criticize administration over mad cow

Three candidates call for steps to protect nation's beef supply

Howard Dean, seen here in Ames, Iowa, says the incident
Howard Dean, seen here in Ames, Iowa, says the incident "raises serious concerns about the ability of this administration to protect the safety of our nation's food supply."

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Washington state

Source: USDA
• Mad cow disease was first reported in the United Kingdom in 1986, peaking in 1993 with almost 1,000 new cases per week. 

• In 1996, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) was detected in humans and linked to the mad cow epidemic. Eating contaminated meat and cattle products is presumed to be the cause.

• Both are fatal brain diseases with unusually long incubation periods, often lasting years.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mayo Clinic
• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Howard Dean
Richard A. Gephardt
John F. Kerry
Mad Cow Disease

(CNN) -- Three Democratic presidential candidates criticized the government Sunday for its failure to prevent mad cow disease in the United States and called for federal aid to the beef industry.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, had been found in a cow slaughtered in Washington state.

Since then, several countries have banned U.S. beef exports, and federal officials have scrambled to find the source of the cow -- and where its meat was sold. (Full story)

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said the incident "raises serious concerns about the ability of this administration to protect the safety of our nation's food supply and the health of our rural economies that depend on agriculture exports."

He called on the USDA to take measures to restore confidence in the industry.

"U.S. beef producers are the best in the world, and I have full confidence in their ability to produce a high quality and safe product," Dean said in a speech in Ames, Iowa, home of the National Veterinary Services Lab, which confirmed the case.

"But mad cow disease is a serious concern that has been undersold by this administration and their industry allies."

Dean noted the administration blocked attempts to ban from the food supply beef from cows slaughtered when they were unable to walk -- a symptom of the disease -- and resisted efforts to create a better system to track cows.

"A larger outbreak of BSE or some other livestock disease could devastate rural economies," Dean said.

"This administration has not taken such dangers seriously -- they have seriously underfunded important food security efforts, including important upgrades to the National Animal Disease Center here in Ames."

Dean called for federal support for the beef industry in the short-term and "an administration that will put the interests of our consumers and ranchers ahead of the president's corporate backers" in the long-term.

Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri said the threat of the illness "can harm consumer confidence in the safety and security of our food supply, destroy families and devastate farmers, cattle ranchers and rural economies all over our country.

"We must stop this deadly disease at our borders at all cost. It's the government's highest responsibility to keep Americans safe. That includes the food at our grocery stores," Gephardt said after a rally in Enid, Oklahoma.

"George Bush refuses to fund important country-of-origin labeling provisions for meat and has ignored the need for resources at the FDA and USDA to inspect the agricultural products coming across our borders.

"We need a president who is committed to the right of American consumers to know where their meat is coming from and not to the huge special interests that are fighting to keep safety regulations out of our food supply."

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts called on Bush to implement his plan "to protect public health and restore confidence in the beef industry."

"I am calling on President Bush to act immediately to improve our food safety and inspection process," Kerry said.

"The current mad cow investigation underscores the urgent need for a national system to make diseased livestock easier to track and contain. It also calls for common-sense reforms, such as placing a hold on suspect animals until test results are cleared."

Kerry called for all "downer" cows -- those unable to walk into the slaughterhouse -- to be tested and not allowed into the food supply until certified as disease-free, as some other countries have mandated.

He also called for more inspections of cattle at the slaughterhouse and to ensure that the 1997 feed ban on ground bone meal is not being violated.

Scientists say the practice of feeding biological material from cows to cows can spread the disease.

Kerry urged that a national tracking system be set up to follow animals "from birth to slaughter."

He recommended banning the sale of nerve tissue such as brains or vertebrae that can contain the disease's causal agent, as Britain did after its bout with the illness.

Kerry, too, called for federal aid to the industry, including "reimbursing farmers for any cows that must be slaughtered as a result of this ongoing investigation."

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