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									Official Tells of Investigation Into Mad Cow Discrepancies

March 4, 2004

The government has begun a criminal investigation into
whether documents were falsified in the lone case of mad
cow disease found in the United States, the Agriculture
Department's inspector general said yesterday.

The official, Phyllis K. Fong, told a House appropriations
subcommittee that the investigation focused on whether the
Holstein dairy cow was a "downer" - a cow too sick or
injured to walk - when it was slaughtered on Dec. 9 at
Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Washington State.

The inquiry was "based on allegations that were reported in
the media in early February concerning possible alteration
of official records," Ms. Fong said. She declined to
identify any targets of the investigation.

The official records of the veterinarian at the
slaughterhouse, released by the Agriculture Department in
January, said the animal was "sternal, alert," meaning that
it was conscious but down on its sternum, or chest, before
it was killed.

But three witnesses - the worker who killed the animal, the
trucker who hauled it to the slaughterhouse and an owner of
the slaughterhouse - have all said publicly that it was

Dave Louthan, the slaughterer at Vern's, said in a February
interview that the cow walked to the edge of the truck when
he killed it with a "knocking gun" to keep it from doubling
back and trampling the downed cattle inside.

At the time, Mr. Louthan said he believed that the
slaughterhouse veterinarian had falsified the records. He
repeated that assertion yesterday in more detail.

On Dec. 23, the day it became known that a cow from Vern's
had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy
and a team from the Agriculture Department arrived, he
barged into the office of the veterinarian, Rodney D.
Thompson, and found him "hip deep in the paperwork and
writing like a madman," Mr. Louthan said.

The paperwork included the slips a veterinarian fills out
on each animal in which illness is suspected.

"I said, `Hey, this is wrong, that cow was a walker,' " Mr.
Louthan said. "And he got mad at me and said, `Then why the
hell do I have him down as a suspect?' " ("Suspect"
describes any animal suspected of being seriously ill,
including downers.)

Dr. Thompson did not respond to phone calls or e-mail
messages left for him yesterday and has not spoken to the

The Agriculture Department tested fewer than 21,000 cows
last year - compared with millions in Europe - but
Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman has repeatedly said
that amount is enough to assure that the country's beef is
safe because it focuses on downers, which were more likely
to be diseased. If the disease was found in a walking cow,
the premise behind the testing system would be undermined.

Asked yesterday whether it was possible that someone in
the top ranks of the department could have ordered Dr.
Thompson to forge a report, Alisa Harrison, the
department's chief spokeswoman, repeated five times: "I
cannot fathom that that would happen."

Asked several times if she was saying it did not happen,
Ms. Harrison said Ms. Veneman did not order it. Asked if
someone else in the top ranks could have, she repeated,
"I'm saying I cannot fathom it."

Mr. Louthan noted that the cow in question was the only one
on the downer record not having a temperature recorded that
day. It was marked "unable to get temp." It is easy to get
a rectal temperature from a downed cow, he said, but
difficult to do so in a moving, upset one. He called the
absence of such a reading the "smoking gun" showing that
the records were changed.
A very low temperature indicates an animal is dying. A very
high one suggests it has a systemic infection. Both make it
unfit for human consumption.

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