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In a brilliant move, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to decrease the number of cows being tested for BSE by about 90%. This after new cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy were discovered here this year and last.

Currently, only about 1% of the cattle that are killed each year so that our fellow Americans can nosh on cheeseburgers are tested. That’s about 1,000 tests a day. Once the reduction is in place—and only 10% of the cattle being raised for food are being tested—that number will come down to 110. But why worry? According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, “Because of progressive steps taken by the U.S. government over the past 15 years, all U.S. beef is safe from BSE.”

By contrast, the Consumers Union says that the “USDA is playing Russian roulette with public health.” Maybe that’s because the U.S. continues to import cows from Canada, where the seventh case of BSE has been discovered. (The poor cow was young, pregnant, and a downer.) And maybe because once cows have been slaughtered and their flesh sold, the remains are used in feed—for pigs and chickens.

Downers were banned from human consumption in the U.S. after the first case of mad cow was discovered, in December 2003. Cows that are sick or injured could have BSE, so the reduction in testing, coupled with the fact that new secretary of agriculture Mike Johanns is also considering allowing some downed cattle back into the human food supply, is bad news for everyone.

Even more outrageous, the government wants to prohibit Creekstone Farms from voluntarily testing its cows for BSE. You’d think the fact that Japan is ready to reopen its doors to U.S. beef (lifting a 2003 ban that resulted from the first mad cow discovery) would make the USDA rethink its recent brainstorms.

Tell the USDA not to reduce the number of cows being tested for BSE and not to allow downed cattle back into the food supply. If they’re going to continue to slaughter animals just because people like the way they taste, they should protect downed cows from further injury and pain, and they can make at least a meager attempt to protect public health.

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