PIERRE, S.D. (AP)--U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-SD, said July 12 she will ask federal agriculture officials why inconclusive test results on bovine spongiform encephalopathy are released when conclusive results are available within a few days.

The congresswoman met with farmers and cattle feeders early July 12 in Sioux Falls and on July 10 in Yankton to talk about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recent handling of inconclusive tests for the disease.

U.S. Depeartment of Agriculture reported two cases in early July in which initial tests indicated the presence of the disease. Later tests came back negative.

However, cattle prices dropped temporarily after news reports of the first results.

Herseth said those at her meetings felt the news media went overboard on the initial results.

"The consensus was the hype in the media's reporting of an inconclusive test and the consumer's perception of what that means and really not knowing all the information about what it doesn't mean as it relates to food safety," she said.

Some farmers and cattle feeders believe the media "may be irresponsibly reporting what an inconclusive test means... and perhaps a preference of those who came to the meetings that USDA not release an inconclusive finding given that we're able to get within 48 hours to maybe 72 hours the results of the more conclusive tests," Herseth said.

BSE affects the brains and nervous systems of cattle. Some scientists say people who eat meat afflicted by BSE could get a rare but fatal disease.

Several people died during a BSE outbreak in Britain a few years ago and more than a million cattle in that country had to be destroyed. However, it has only been detected once in the United States; a Holstein cow imported from Canada tested positive for the disease in December in Mabton, Wash.

Herseth is gathering comments on USDA reporting of BSE to prepare for a House hearing July 14. She said she also set up a toll-free line so people can voice their opinions on BSE testing.

The congresswoman planned to return to Washington July 12. She said she would review a written report on the phone comments and hold a conference call with other interested parties July 13.

"I would like to see more investment in research initiatives that can increase the reliability of the initial screening and the rapid test or at least make the turnaround from the initial screening and the more conclusive test even more efficient and rapid," Herseth said.

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