U.S. Firm Wants to Test All Cattle for Mad Cow

Kansas Meatpacker Hopes Move Will Win Back Japanese Buyers

Creekstone Farms Vice President Kevin Pence

Creekstone Farms Vice President Kevin Pence on floor of his company's meatpacking plant in Arkansas City, Kans. Greg Allen, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Greg Allen, NPR

The United States is pressing the 50 countries that banned American beef imports because of mad cow disease to lift the restriction. The Agriculture Department plans to increase ten fold the number of cows it tests each year for the disease.

Mad Cow Disease Fact Sheet

Compiled from the USDA, CDC and Canada's Federal Department of Health

What is mad cow disease and how is it spread?

Can humans get it?

What is variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease?

What does the U.S. do to prevent it?

But that number is still well short of the 100 percent testing requested by Japan, a major market for U.S. beef. In an effort to woo back international customers, Creekstone Farms, a small Kansas meatpacker, has proposed testing all of its beef.

Creekstone is proposing to pay for the testing itself, and passing the costs — as much as $20 per head — along to its customers. Creekstone Vice President Kevin Pence concedes that it's purely a marketing move. The company's cattle are all under 30 months old, and only cattle older than 30 months are considered at risk for mad cow disease. The import ban on U.S. beef has cost Creekstone some 20 percent of its business. Pence says another year like this would put Creekstone out of business.

But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, Creekstone's plan is running into serious opposition from others in the beef industry, who worry the move would put pressure on them to follow suit. And it's not clear whether the USDA will approve Creekstone's plan — federal officials say it's not scientifically warranted.

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