Springfield State Journal Register

January 28, 2004

Durbin wants more done to ensure food safety


WASHINGTON - The federal government isn't doing enough to ensure food safety after last month's "mad cow" disease discovery, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Tuesday.

"Our government is doing just enough to put the mad cow issue behind us, but not enough to give our nation's consumers the confidence and protection they deserve," Durbin said. "That must change."

Testifying before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday, Durbin advocated measures that go beyond the federal government's recent ban on sick or injured cattle from the human food supply and Monday's ban on the use of blood in feed for cattle and other grazing animals.

Durbin has introduced a bill that would require all non-ambulatory cattle and all cattle over the age of 30 months to be tested for mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Currently, only those showing signs of
neurological disease are tested, totaling just 0.06 percent of cattle, he said.

His bill also would require the use of rapid tests, which provide results in four to 12 hours instead of five to seven days as the current process does.

Without more thorough testing, the federal government can't know how widespread the disease is, Durbin told reporters at after the Senate hearing.

He compared it to "trying to estimate the prevalence of HIV infection in people by only testing individuals who have symptoms of AIDS. At the current level of testing, we have no real estimate of the true prevalence rate of BSE in our country."

Durbin also proposes closing a loophole in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's feed ban that allows salvaged pet food and poultry litter in feed for cattle and other animals.

Durbin said he is troubled by the "inherent conflict" with the USDA promoting the beef market and also being responsible for food safety. He has long advocated consolidating the federal government's authority over food safety that is currently spread out among 12 federal agencies.

So far, Durbin has no Republican support for his bill.