News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Mad cow case shows need for better tracking

State officials were less than reassuring this week in explaining how safe our people are from mad cow disease.

A brood cow, about 10 years old, became ill, received treatment and the next day was euthanized. Subsequent testing found the animal, from a small-farm herd, had mad cow disease.

The animal never entered the human food chain and posed no threat to humans, State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said this week.

The case should not end there, but it might because Alabama doesn't require farmers to keep records on cows. Thus, Commissioner Sparks said, the state may never know from where the cow came, if it had calves, and if so, if they, too, might carry the bovine spongiform encephalopathy that attacks the brain.

The Food and Drug Administration believes humans can get mad cow illness by eating meat contaminated with the disease.

Ironically, opposition to tracking in Alabama is from small-farm operators who succeeded in getting three state senators, including Tommy Ed Roberts of Hartselle, to stall and maybe kill a legislative bill to track animals destined for the dinner table.

The House passed the bill 99-0 but the Senate carried the proposed legislation over for more discussion.

Sen. Roberts said state officials failed to adequately explain the bill to small-farm operators.

Keeping herds healthy isn't just to benefit American consumers. Beef exports to major consumers Japan and South Korea suffered from the two previous reports of the disease in U.S. cattle.

Japan banned U.S. beef for two years, then temporarily halted imports again in January. This case may extend the pause. South Korea said it would resume buying from the United States this month, thus lifting a 2003 ban, but now is pushing back that date.

Alabama consumers and big-time cattlemen would like to know this cow's history and the only way for them to get that information is to have a tracking system.

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