ABC Lean on Fairness in Mad Cow Testing Story

      ABC’s Charles Gibson gave viewers of the July 20 “World News Tonight” little to chew on when he told them the government was scaling back testing for mad cow disease. The anchor only put forth the anti-industry side of the story and left out how cattle ranchers were pleased with government findings that prompted the testing cutback.

     “The Agriculture Department has said that it’s going to eliminate about 90 percent of its test for mad cow disease,” Gibson informed viewers, noting that the government tests about 1,000 cows-a-day since an infected animal was discovered in the U.S. in 2003.

     Although the USDA says the risk of contaminated beef getting to market is minimal, “consumer groups are protesting the decision,” Gibson concluded, without naming the groups or exploring whether they are more anti-cattle industry than pro consumer.

     For example, Consumer Federation of America’s Carol Tucker Foreman derided the the USDA as the “agent of cattlemen” as though ranchers have no vested interest in selling safe beef to consumers.

     Meanwhile, the Consumers Union, wants to test every single animal slaughtered, a step that is scientifically unnecessary, say experts at a beef industry group  The ABC report didn’t address the potential cost of such an approach.

     In a July 20 article, AP food and farm writer Libby Quaid documented the objections to the testing change from the Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation, but then added that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association argues the new testing quota “about 110 per day, is significantly higher than what is called for by the World Organization for Animal Health.”

     In a July 20 statement the NCBA’s executive director of regulatory affairs Dr. Gary Weber commented that the “scientific analysis of USDA’s enhanced surveillance program found the disease to be extremely rare, occurring at a rate of less than one case per one million adult cattle.”

     In short, Weber added, the USDA survey produced “the strongest evidence yet that the BSE risk in this country is exceptionally low,” referring to the scientific name for mad cow disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.