WASHINGTON, June 4 (UPI) -- Would you want to know the beef you eat is safe from "mad cow" disease? Or would you prefer just to hope for the best that it's not infected with the disease that eats fatally away at the brain -- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, as it's more formally called?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the government department that acts in our best food interests, believes we do not need to be reassured that our beef is clear.
As a result, a small meat company is suing the agency.
Creekstone Farm is a producer in Kansas of hormone-free, antibiotic-free natural and premium Blank Angus beef. One of its prime markets was Japan. That is, until, in December 2003, a case of BSE was found in a cow in Washington state.
Although investigation revealed the cow had probably been exposed to BSE in Canada where it was born, the discovery had a disastrous affect on U.S. beef exports.
Japan and South Korea banned all American beef. A major purchaser of Creekstone products, it cost the company $200,000 a day. The ban was partially lifted last year.
After the U.S. case of BSE, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service began testing animals viewed as high risk, screening around 750,000 cows over 26 months. It found two cases.
Since then, 40,000 cows are screened annually by government-affiliated laboratories. But private testing is banned.
And this is what has brought Creekstone to court.
The company asserts its profits are still affected by consumer fears about BSE. To protect its reputation, it built its own state-of-the-art testing laboratory to test all its cattle -- then discovered it was not permitted to buy the testing kits.
So earlier this year Creekstone took the USDA to court.
In March, Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the USDA's "prohibition of the private use of rapid test kits to screen cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy is unlawful." Last week the USDA appealed the ruling.
Its position is that BSE's incubation period is from two to eight years and that it's rare for cows younger than 30 months to show any signs of the disease. Most cattle going to slaughter in the United States are younger than 24 months, so BSE testing wouldn't be likely to discover it, even in infected cattle. Instead of offering security, testing, the USDA contended, is more likely to "produce false negative results" than reassure consumers.
The original and rapidly spreading outbreak of BSE began in Britain. It caused the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of herds of cattle. Most of the 190 people who have died from confirmed cases of the human variant of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, were British.
Since the outbreak, every single cow in Britain is tested for the disease.
BSE has spread from the United Kingdom to at least 20 more countries. In consequence, these countries test all or a major percentage of cattle going for slaughter.
Speaking personally, I would feel happier buying more expensive meat from a company that has gone to considerable lengths to guarantee its safety than buying from the powerful mass-producers of beef who go along with the USDA's view that testing young cattle offers "no food safety value."
With grills making their summer appearance in the back yard, try this marinade for flank steak. If you don't have a grill, cook it in a dry pan you have heated to its hottest before you throw it in. Just make sure to open your windows first, because the meat will smoke and you don't want to have to share it with the fire brigade.
-- For each flank steak of any size
-- Mix together 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped, a 2-inch cube of fresh ginger, finely grated, 1 tablespoon sesame oil.
-- Massage it into the meat and leave in the refrigerator for an hour, then bring the steak out to come back to room temperature for 40 minutes before you cook it.
-- Grill or dry-fry the meat until crusty on both sides, about 5-7 minutes, then leave it to rest before slicing it diagonally across the grain. The weird thing about flank steak is that it reverts to pink inside, however much you've cooked it through.