Meatpacker Sues USDA for Right to Test for Mad Cow

A Kansas meatpacker is suing the United States Department of Agriculture for denying it permission to test its cattle for mad cow disease. Creekstone Farms wants to test all of the cattle it slaughters with the aim of reopening the lucrative Japanese market.

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A Kansas meatpacking company is suing the agriculture department for denying it permission to test its cattle for Mad Cow Disease. The company, Creek Stone Farms, wants to test all of the cattle it slaughters for Mad Cow Disease with the aim of reopening the lucrative Japanese market. From Kansas City, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

Compared to the big four American meatpackers, Creek Stone Farms is tiny. But over the past 10 years, it's built up a solid niche business in Arkansas City, Kansas, selling premium Black Angus beef. And until two years ago, much of that beef went to the Japanese market. In 2003 when the first case of Mad Cow Disease was discovered in this country, Japan banned imports of U.S. beef. Since then, Japan has repeatedly called on U.S. meatpackers to do what they do, test all their beef destined for their market for Mad Cow Disease.

And that's something that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has refused to allow. USDA spokesman, Ed Lloyd, says the testing currently done in the U.S. for Mad Cow Disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, is intended to determine its prevalence in the American herd, not to see if beef is safe to eat.

Mr. ED LLOYD (USDA Spokesman): There's certainly an interest to not have consumers get a false sense of security because there's been testing done for BSE. That that therefore insures the safety of the beef. It doesn't add anything to the safety of the beef.

ALLEN: Despite that for more than two years, Creek Stone Farms has petitioned the USDA to allow it to test its cattle. And the agency, backed by meatpackers and the largest rancher's group, has refused. Today Creek Stone finally went to court asking a federal judge to order the agency to allow it to begin testing.

Creek Stone CEO John Stewart says after 27 months of negotiations between USDA and the Japanese government, he and many others in the industry have run out of patience.

Mr. JOHN STEWART (CEO, Creek Stone Farms): I think there is a very significant amount of frustration that the USDA, as the lead negotiating arm, has not gotten these markets reopened and I would have to say that I think my peers in the industry out there, other companies that have maybe had a change of heart, they're looking at this differently.

ALLEN: USDA officials are now once again trying to restart the marathon negotiations that would allow U.S. packers to resume selling beef to Japan. Greg Allen, NPR News.

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