WASHINGTON – Food and consumer groups handed mediocre grades to the Agriculture Department in a "report card" Tuesday on its handling of mad cow (search) disease.
Groups such as Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union and the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation gave no "A's" and only one "B" — for a new policy prohibiting non-ambulatory animals from use in food and feed — out of 10 categories. There was one "C" for initial steps to better identify and track cattle nationally.
Six "D's" were given in the areas of: testing cattle 20 months or older; ensuring feed restrictions; increasing surveillance for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (search), the human form of mad cow disease; strengthening authority to recall tainted meat; implementing use of country of origin labels; and allowing for public input.
The groups, which also included Friends of the Earth, Government Accountability Project, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Action and Public Citizen, said the administration deserved two failing grades.
The "F's" were for not allowing private cattle producers to test their cattle voluntarily for mad cow disease and for breaking its own Agriculture Department (search) rules meant to prevent the brain-wasting condition, the groups said.
Julie Quick, a department spokeswoman, said the agency disagreed with the groups' findings.
"We've been addressing these issues over a decade and we're committed to protecting public health," she said. Quick noted 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 department 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.