By Brian P. Watson Print this article Print

When mad cow disease threatened, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started giving workers tablet PCs to record inspection results, replacing paper and pen.

: How Now, Down Cow?">
USDA: How Now, Down Cow?

The branch of the USDA overseeing mad cow testing and tracking sends inspectors to slaughterhouses, rendering facilities and large farms to gather blood and samples from high-risk cattle, particularly "downers," or those that can't stand. The inspector sends samples to one of seven labs and jots down notes on the animal's description and symptoms, as well as why it's been tested and what samples were taken. Aggregating that information has changed since the first positive test for mad cow. Here's how:

Pre-Mad Cow Now
Time frame Until December 2003 June 2004-present
Reporting tools Pen and paper Tablet PC with Mi-Co software that allows inspectors to hand-write text instead of using keyboard*
Database entry Manually into a database; lab entered data into its own system Forms software routes to Oracle database holding national records
Reporting deadlines None;suggested 2 to 3 days 24 to 36 hours

*Some inspectors still use pen and paper, but now enter notes into a Java application that routes to the same database as the Mi-Co software

This article was originally published on 2006-04-06
Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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