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Kerry calls for overhaul of livestock monitoring

Dean urges restoration of confidence in US beef

DES MOINES -- Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and a presidential candidate, proposed yesterday several changes to the system of monitoring livestock in response to the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States.

Kerry's plan calls for a national tracking system, a sharp increase in the testing of cattle for the disease, and an unspecified level of financial aid to farmers who stand to suffer as a result of the discovery.

Democratic front-runner Howard Dean, also campaigning in Iowa, called on the Department of Agriculture to implement immediately a number of measures to restore confidence in the US beef industry.

Since the announcement that a now-slaughtered Holstein cow from Washington state was sick with mad cow disease, more than two dozen countries have halted imports of US beef, valued at $3.4 billion a year.

"The current mad cow investigation underscores the urgent need for a national system to make diseased livestock easier to track and contain," Kerry said in a statement.

Kerry said downed animals -- those too sick or injured to stand or walk unassisted -- that are being tested for the disease should not be processed until the results are known.

In the Washington state case, the sick cow was slaughtered and its meat distributed 13 days before preliminary tests confirmed the presence of mad cow disease.

"It's common sense. If a cow is suspect, it should be tested, and the results should be back before it is processed and in the food supply," Kerry said in Iowa, where the Jan. 19 precinct caucuses launch the presidential nominating season. The cattle industry is a significant force in the state's economy.

Kerry also called for a national system to track the movement of livestock and fora sharp increase in Agriculture Department testing of cattle for the disease. Over nine years, only 30,000 of the 300 million cattle slaughtered have been tested for the disease, he said.

Another element of his proposal is a ban on the sale of the brains and vertebrae of cattle, portions of the animal affected by the disease.

Kerry also called for "fair and equitable" financial assistance for those hurt by the crisis, including farmers, but did not say how much money they should be given.

Dean, meanwhile, faulted the Bush administration for objecting to a proposed ban on the slaughter of downed cattle and for what Dean considers reluctance to improve the system for tracking cattle.

"We need a system of instant traceability for all cattle," Dean said in a statement. "The discovery of a single cow with [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] has effectively halted any and all beef exports from this country. A larger outbreak of BSE or some other livestock disease could devastate rural economies.

"This administration has not taken such dangers seriously," Dean said. Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri on Saturday criticized President Bush, alleging he has refused to pay for country-of-origin labeling for meat and ignored the the need for more money to inspect agricultural imports.

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