WASHINGTON, DC – In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senator Richard Durban (D-IL) today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to explain its failure to fulfill earlier commitments to expand testing for mad cow disease (BSE). The Senators expressed concern that USDA has apparently abandoned plans to test clinically normal, aged cattle as part of its surveillance program despite public statements to the contrary. Harkin is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“USDA said they would test 20,000 aged cows that appear healthy,” Harkin said. “I want to know why these plans were scrapped and why they have failed to publicly acknowledge this.”

Early in 2004, USDA had stated that it planned to test 20,000 clinically normal, aged cattle as part of their expanded testing program. Also, in the FY2005 agriculture appropriations bill, Congress urged that USDA include this population of cattle as part of its surveillance program. In other countries, a small but significant number of clinically normal cattle over thirty months of age have tested positive for BSE. While USDA had continued to say it would test these normal appearing older animals, the Department has not begun this testing to date. Harkin called on USDA to increase transparency of their decision-making process and to keep the public fully informed on its BSE surveillance program.