Agriculture Department officials did not intentionally falsify records of a Washington state cow found to be infected with mad cow disease, Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong told a congressional hearing yesterday.
She also said that two weeks after a USDA veterinarian inspected the animal last December and declared it an ailing "downer," he took the unusual step of updating and annotating the records after being queried by Agriculture Department officials. She also said he failed to place a required ear tag on the animal.
"Our investigation did reveal procedural errors and inconsistent descriptions that gave rise to some of the public concerns that the identification of the cow may have been mishandled," Fong said yesterday at a hearing held by the House Agriculture and Government Reform committees.
In the weeks after the discovery of the infected animal, a former employee of the slaughterhouse accused the Agriculture Department of changing the animal's inspection report. He said there was pressure on the veterinarian to say the animal was a downer and could not stand up, a finding that would support the department's position that its surveillance worked as planned.
The inspector general's office "discovered no evidence that USDA personnel . . . falsified any records pertaining to the condition of the cow at the time of its inspection," Fong said. The man who made the allegation, Fong said, appeared to be mistaken about which animal turned out to be infected.
Fong, however, testified that five people at either the slaughterhouse or the dairy farm from which it came saw the cow walking the day it was slaughtered. While the animal was seated when it reached the abattoir, the owner said he saw it stand there.
The inspector general said the Agriculture Department veterinarian declared seven animals downers that day. Fong did not, however, come to any independent conclusion about whether the infected animal was a downer.
The Agriculture Department's mad cow surveillance program tests "high risk" cattle -- downers, animals with central nervous system disorders, and animals that die for unknown reasons.