USDA Claims Madness for Itself

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A Kansas-based angus beef company wants to test some cows for mad cow disease in order to distinguish itself in the marketplace. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says bovine testing is a job for government officials, not meatpackers. Now the Bush administration, too, says private farmers need to step away from the BSE test kits.

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef.

But Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.

The USDA says it fears false positives, which are presumably a risk of any testing the agency peforms as well.

There is a MeMe Roth joke in here somewhere.

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  1. Regarding false positives: First, if your paramount concern is ostensibly consumer protection then false positives should be less of a concern than false negatives (although admittedly still a concern).

    Second, however much the USDA might fear false positives, wouldn’t the company in question fear them even more, and have more incentive to deal with the problem?

    I realize that having an incentive to do something is not a guarantee that it will be done. However, in this case only one party will be hurt by false positives: The company doing the tests. So if the only people being hurt are the same ones facing the incentives, this seems much less problematic for the rest of us.

    (I realize that different reasoning may or may not apply in cases where others could also be hurt, but in this case the harms and incentives fall on the same party, so there’s no externality issue.)

  2. What the hell is the Constitutional business for telling an animal’s owner he can’t test said animal for disease?

  3. business = basis. Oops.

  4. There are legitimate concerns with this, as well as bullshit protectionism by entrenched interests.

    The risk of false positives causing massive upheavals in US meat industry are very real. What was it… one positive case of bird flu in France caused the poultry industry to drop by 2/3, and precipitated a (disingenuous) ban by neighbors on french export… meaning, the over-reaction tends to be much more dangerous than the actual threat of BSE on human health.

    On the other hand, it’s also a great branding thing that uses consumer panic to create a market! 🙂 Organic milk is still growing 20%+ a year on the backs of the RBGH kerfuffle over a decade ago. Big Beef would certainly like to keep them from competing.

    One related problem is that one of the (i think) most cost effective safety measures in meat handling is irradiation… but thats something (like GMOs) that has a negative market impact. Consumers dont trust irradiation in general, and i think there’s been proposals passed around about whether they HAVE to tell consumers it’s been zapped, or whether they can just come up with a ‘safety’ seal that says “pathogen free!” (dont ask how it got that way)

  5. This is the Administrations way of saying “We are in the pocket of big beef”.

    sometimes the jokes just write themselves

  6. What the hell is the Constitutional business for telling an animal’s owner he can’t test said animal for disease?

    The interstate commerce clause. It may cause the other farmers to have to test, raising the price for beef, most of which crosses state lines, which affects interstate commerce.

    Anything you do could affect interstate commerce in some miniscule way, allowing for overt regulation. Even your thoughts. Your thinking requires brain cells to work, which uses glucose, which may have an effect on the demand for sugar, which crosses state lines.

  7. The USDA doesn’t exist to make sure food is safe. The USDA exists so that beef producers need to pay tribute to politicians in order to do buisness, lest the USDA shut down.

    Why would the USDA want any private agency to take power away from its protection scheme?

  8. Jennifer,

    That’d be the commerce clause, which as we all know, is used to justify every bit of federal meddling in business affairs.

  9. If there was any remaining doubt that the Republican pretense to being for small government and less regulation was a crock, that should be gone at this point.

    Here we have the Bush administration standing up for more regulation in order to prevent someone from testing his own damn cows for a disease – for no better reason than to protect larger beef producers from potential competition.

    The Bush administration, and all of its supporters, have no interest in small government whatsoever, and their superficial pro-capitalism rhetoric is just a dodge designed to rope in dupes while the administration serves the interests of its friends.

  10. Holy shit… I agreed with juanita….

  11. That is the best “Juanita” comment ever.
    Kudos
    Kudos
    Kudos, m-fing kudos to you.

    Everybody else:
    Lock it up. Go home. We cannot top that.

  12. Juanita’s brain/glucose hypo would be funny if it didn’t have the ring of truth or wasn’t a logical extension of precedent.

  13. Damn, I really hope Creekstone goes ahead anyway, looks the USDA in the eye and says “Fuck you. See you in court, Poindexter.”

  14. Big Beef: I hate gov’t, I hate regulation, I wish the gov’t would just leave us alone. The market will force us to behave responsibly and take care of our customers.

    Little Beef: I want to test for BSE.

    Big Beef: The gov’t should step in and regulate the industry so little beef doesn’t advertise their testing and imply that their beef is safer. We need more gov’t regulation.

    The same thing happened a year or two ago with small milk producers wanting to advertise their milk was hormone free.

  15. (sorta repeating myself)

    uh, i figured you’d all get your freedom-panties in a twist, but again = there’s more to this kind of thing than meets (doh!) the eye.

    It’s sorta like the whole taking your shoes off at the airport thing = a vast stupid expensive system that is trying to stop something that is not as big a threat as say, someone releasing biological pathogens… but BECAUSE they screen shoes, they can go “see! Safe!!” It’s sort of a false presentation of security.

    Or it’s also kind of like bottled water calling itself Low Carb. You can mislead consumers with claims of safety from BCE….but technically, e-coli or other things may be far more dangerous threats to human health. There should be single standards for safety testing, and they should be economically cost-effective, and practical. Testing every single cow in the US for BSE would be impractical.

    that said, I think the govt should let the market work it out of course…I’m just appealing to people to consider this in broader context

  16. Sounds like Big Cattle has simply been exercising its freedom of speech by influencing the government with money.

    Somewhere, Jacob Sullum is smiling at how much liberty this has produced.

  17. Dan, you’re stretching again.

  18. What the hell is the Constitutional business for telling an animal’s owner he can’t test said animal for disease?

    The biggest power grab in US history came under FDR, when the SCOTUS bent its knee and said that a wheat grown on a farm, that never left the farm, and was consumed on the farm, was nonetheless in interstate commerce and subject to federal control.

  19. Now a while ago weren’t we faced with some sort of food poisoning crisis. Hrrm, something about imports from somewhere with dangerous substances in them. I can’t remember but I am pretty sure it had something to do with the government not testing cat food and companies getting sued for it. Gosh, I wish I could remember that but it was so long ago.

  20. RC Dean,
    Amen. Wickard v. Filburn is the. worst. ruling. EVAR.

  21. Here, Jennifer, let me fix that for you:

    Dan, you’re stretching tugging again.

  22. The article isn’t much help. How is the administration proposing to “fight” this?

    Is there some law they can charge Creekstone with?

    Creekstone starts doing the tests, and selling their steaks with a label on the package, and then what?

  23. GILMORE –
    It seems dumb for us to consider the impacts on the beef industry if, regardless of what the impact is, we still wouldn’t be in favor of telling a single producer that they can’t test all of their cows.

    I for one, a vegetarian who occasionally eats substitute food, would stand to gain from a surplus of soy on the market, making it cheaper, because the demand for beef cattle suddenly fell. I’m all in favor of a collapse of Big Beef.

  24. “The USDA says it fears false positives, which are presumably a risk of any testing the agency peforms as well.”

    I doubt that if Creekstone finds a cow that tests positive, that they will shout “My God! We’ve got a cow with Mad Cow disease!”. I suspect, instead, that they would either re-test the cow (that’s cheaper than destroying it), or they would report it to the USDA, so that the USDA could test it themselves.

    There’s more going on here than the Fed is admitting; and it sounds like money under the table, again.

    CB

  25. Dan, you’re stretching again.

    That wasn’t really meant to be taken seriously, but you must admit that Sullum and others seem to totally be oblivous to the contradiction between promoting a libertarian style government and allowing the free flow of money into that government.

  26. “There should be single standards for safety testing, and they should be economically cost-effective, and practical.”

    Most likely there already is a single standard in place, but what’s wrong with a company voluntarily going above and beyond that standard?

  27. …when the SCOTUS bent its knee…

    And bent all of us in addition.

  28. A federal judge ruled in March that such tests must be allowed. U.S. District Judge James Robertson noted that Creekstone sought to use the same test the government relies on and said the government didn’t have the authority to restrict it.

    That’s from the original article, showing two judges that have sense.

  29. Let’s not get carried away, Kwixie. IIRC, Wickard v. Filburn involved 239 bushels of wheat fed to pigs that were sold in interstate commerce. Bad as that is, Gonzales v. Raich was a much more egregious as an overextension of what “commerce” means. And that wasn’t no New Dealeo court, neither.

  30. To be fair, Dan T., Jacob Sullum proposes to solve the problem you mention by shrinking the government, so it won’t have the authority to do the things that Big Money donors pay for.

    And then install a Anti-Government Expanding Device, so that regardless of all of the money and influence being brought to bear on government officials, the government will never be able to be changed in a manner that allows it to resume doing things that donors would like to see.

  31. Reinmoose | May 31, 2007, 3:15pm | #
    GILMORE –
    It seems dumb for us to consider the impacts on the beef industry if, regardless of what the impact is, we still wouldn’t be in favor of telling a single producer that they can’t test all of their cows.

    The issue you’re not addressing is “can anyone come up with their own ‘Safety’ labels?”

    Meaning, “hormone free milk” is not really hormone free, “organic” can be almost anything, and “natural” means nothing anymore.

    I’m not really for or against anything here, just having spent a lot of time looking at this issue i am pointing out it’s more complex than “corporshuns and Tha Man colluding to destroy free markets~'” which is how libertarians will tend to knee-jerk interpret…well, everything.

    And there is some interest in not letting our industries implode over safety freakouts a la Europe

    but again, I dont know enough about the details here to say its NOT Big Beef and Uncle Sam colluding anti-competitively

  32. You can mislead consumers with claims of safety from BCE….but technically, e-coli or other things may be far more dangerous threats to human health. There should be single standards for safety testing, and they should be economically cost-effective, and practical. Testing every single cow in the US for BSE would be impractical.

    GILMORE,
    If the NTSB states that a car must withstand an impact at 10mph without any structural damage and your car has been tested by the company to withstand 15mph how is that misleading? The NTSB only tests to 10mph as that is their goal.*

    This is the same deal. The beef farmer wants to assure its consumers that it’s beef is 100% BSE free. If another company wants to guarantee 100% e.coli free beef by testing each and every cut that leaves it’s facitlity it should be free to do so. FWIW, BSE, unlike e.coli cannot be removed by cooking it so I consider BSE to be the potentially more dangerous, if more rare, disease.

    As for practicality/economy anything short of testing every cow is false safety. Additionally, if Creekstone Farms wishes to test every single cow for a full myriad of diseases before it slaughters them and pass the cost onto the consumer it should have that ability. I would be willing to pay more for a steak that has been certified as BSE/e.coli/trichinosis/tapeworm** free with a guarantee to back it up and the Government should be preventing a company from offering to test said meat.

    ——————————————
    *Volvo in particular utilizes what they call the “Elch Test” whereby they simulate a moose intruding on the passenger compartment in a collision to ensure that the driver has the best possible chance of surviving this type of encounter. Not useful in Florida and definitely not tested by the NTSB but there you go.

    **Yes, I know that worms are rare in beef.

  33. Testing every single cow in the US for BSE would be impractical.

    Why?
    Proof?
    Citation?

  34. As for practicality/economy anything short of testing every cow is false safety.

    That’s not true either.

  35. mediageek | May 31, 2007, 3:16pm | #
    “There should be single standards for safety testing, and they should be economically cost-effective, and practical.”

    Most likely there already is a single standard in place, but what’s wrong with a company voluntarily going above and beyond that standard?

    Nothing, so long as it’s communicating correctly the actual risk-reduction. Statistically, it may be that ‘test em all’! isnt necessarily a particulary significant risk reduction, given that BSE is not a common problem.

    Anyway, I have no real cow in this fight. I just put on my food/bev analyst hat from time to time out of bored nerddom.

  36. Dave W.
    You know perfectly well that Gonzales v. Raich rested soley on Wickard v. Filburn and rejected United States v. Lopez. Wickard was the case that allowed Congress to assume possession of people’s personal goods regardless of the good in question.

    In Wickard, the law supposedly being violated was the wheat production quota, not the pig production quota. If you agree with Wickard then it isn’t a big leap to see that someone’s backyard production of cannabis affects the interstate commerce price of the same plant regardless if the plant in question is destined for the interstate market.

  37. jerry | May 31, 2007, 3:34pm | #
    As for practicality/economy anything short of testing every cow is false safety.

    That’s not true either.

    How is this not so?

  38. In Wickard, the law supposedly being violated was the wheat production quota, not the pig production quota. If you agree with Wickard then it isn’t a big leap to see that someone’s backyard production of cannabis affects the interstate commerce price of the same plant regardless if the plant in question is destined for the interstate market.

    I don’t like Wickard. I am just saying there is a new high water mark of overreach. A pig farm is a lot like a factory, even though, unlike factories, people tend to live on them. Homegrown for personal consumption is a somewhat different thing.

    I think pigs are cute. I stopped eating pigs and cows for a couple years because they seem pretty smart, but then I started up eating them again.

  39. GILMORE –
    The issue you’re not addressing is “can anyone come up with their own ‘Safety’ labels?”

    Meaning, “hormone free milk” is not really hormone free, “organic” can be almost anything, and “natural” means nothing anymore

    There are actually multiple companies/organizations that do safety standardization outside of government. I would have problems with anything that read “hormone free milk,” but I don’t think that the government should get to choose whether or not a person puts “synthetic hormone free milk” on their carton just because there is some consensus that milk with RBST in it is no different than non-synthetic hormone treated milk.

    Since when did the government get to decide what information we get to have to make decisions? That’s in direct conflict with the principles of capitalism, where consumers need all the information they can get about a product in order to make the right choice.

  40. And there is some interest in not letting our industries implode over safety freakouts a la Europe

    Does France screen each and every domestic beef producer’s food chain and does it test each and every cow for BSE? If not, then why would they freak out over a single company here doing so, particularly if the company’s aim is to ensure that its entire herd is BSE free? If they do test each and every animal, then wouldn’t this lend validity to American beef in the French market? If you are referring to the domestic market then why doesn’t it implode over “Organic” or “Grass Fed” beef? I think your reaction is indeed the knee-jerk one.

  41. To be fair, Dan T., Jacob Sullum proposes to solve the problem you mention by shrinking the government, so it won’t have the authority to do the things that Big Money donors pay for.

    And then install a Anti-Government Expanding Device, so that regardless of all of the money and influence being brought to bear on government officials, the government will never be able to be changed in a manner that allows it to resume doing things that donors would like to see.

    That’s about right. The only thing we’re waiting on is for the free market to produce said device.

  42. I don’t like Wickard. I am just saying there is a new high water mark of overreach. A pig farm is a lot like a factory, even though, unlike factories, people tend to live on them. Homegrown for personal consumption is a somewhat different thing.

    Oh, I agree that Raich was indeed a massive overreach of congressional powers, I just consider Wickard to be the ultimate source of the evil. Hence my judgement that it was the worst decision that the SCOTUS ever made as it has led to the last 60 years of “commerce clause” bullshit including the Controlled Substances Act.

  43. jerry | May 31, 2007, 3:33pm | #
    Testing every single cow in the US for BSE would be impractical.

    Why?
    Proof?
    Citation?

    PRoOOOF! GIVE ME PROOF MY ASSUMPTIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS VALID!@!

    From 2004″
    “We will test approximately 200,000 animals in the U.S. this year. This rate
    of testing allows us to be able to say with 99% confidence that we would find
    an infected individual if the prevalence of BSE in the U.S. cattle population is
    one in ten million. Stated another way, we can be 99% sure that we would
    find BSE if there are more than 10 infected individuals in the U.S. cattle
    population of more than 100 million animals.”

    more importantly, there is already ruminant screening of animal feed, which is the source of the disease. Layers and layers and layers of additional ‘screening’ is certainly fine if people want it. But it shouldnt be confused with significant risk-reduction or health improvement.

    My beef (ouch!) with this is in general about consumer health scares being used to sell consumers bullshit-safety and drive up costs unecessarily, when more practical efforts are more effective, albeit boring. Food-insustry Y2K as it were. See the (@#*(#)$ Euros and their GMO ban.

    Anyway I’m going to eat uncooked hot dogs and shut up now

  44. sorry = link

    http://www.iowabeefcenter.org/content/ BSETestingIssuesHartwig0704.pdf

  45. Mooo mooo moo mooo mooOO!

  46. Doc, i’m telling you, they’re after me! in spaceships! they watch me through the TV and control everyone else with radio waves…You can see them if you squint in the mirror… and sometimes it feels like ants! ants, ANTS running all over me! Why are you looking at ME!!! Holy shit, do you realize i’m NAKED? IVE ALWAYS BEEN NAKED!!! WHO ARE YOU!!!!!

  47. And then install a Anti-Government Expanding Device, so that regardless of all of the money and influence being brought to bear on government officials, the government will never be able to be changed in a manner that allows it to resume doing things that donors would like to see.

    That’s about right. The only thing we’re waiting on is for the free market to produce said device.
    This device was invented in 1789. We just stopped using it, that’s all.

  48. Hence my judgement that it was the worst decision

    Now you’re just harshing on my mellow, maaan.

  49. To be fair, Dan T., Jacob Sullum proposes to solve the problem you mention by shrinking the government, so it won’t have the authority to do the things that Big Money donors pay for.

    And then install a Anti-Government Expanding Device, so that regardless of all of the money and influence being brought to bear on government officials, the government will never be able to be changed in a manner that allows it to resume doing things that donors would like to see.

    Yep, that is pretty good. Government’s resilience and ability to rise Phoenix-like from its ashes is a concern. Eternal vigilance and all that.

    By the same token, do propose installing an Anti Social Security Cancellation Device so that the children of the boomers do not decide that they would rather not pay for my retirement after a lifetime of making payments?

    That’s about right. The only thing we’re waiting on is for the free market to produce said device.

    And then Dan T. shows the difference between intelligent liberals and, well, Dan T.

  50. And then install a Anti-Government Expanding Device, so that regardless of all of the money and influence being brought to bear on government officials, the government will never be able to be changed in a manner that allows it to resume doing things that donors would like to see.

    joe, whatever perfect, foolproof CFR legislation Congress could pass would have the same problem. It’s just as easy to repeal or gut a CFR law as it is to expand govt.

    That’s of course leaving aside the question of whether foolproof CFR legislation is even possible.

  51. There is a MeMe Roth joke in here somewhere.

    Forget MeMe Roth, what about Richard McBeef? If one college wants to test all of its students for obsessions with banana cereal bars, instead of the 1% currently tested by DoEd, why not?

  52. “**Yes, I know that worms are rare in beef.”

    Well, if your grillman is competent at all, you can order your worms well done; but that’s so, well, French.

  53. anon,

    “This device was invented in 1789. We just stopped using it, that’s all.”

    Yes, and how’s that worked out for you? If we had the device, and it failed, how’s about we don’t depend on such devices to do the job?

    You know how you don’t trust words on a page – gun control laws – to keep other people from using their guns to victimize you? The way you insist that there be a fair fight, ie, you insist on having a gun on your side, so you can fight back against them when they attack, and have a chance of winning?

    I don’t trust words on a page to stop the govenrment from colluding with Big Money donors to shape the government to their preferred ends. I insist that there be a fair fight, too, so that the non-Big Money interests can fight back and have a chance of winning.

    Gimmme Back My Dog,

    “By the same token, do propose installing an Anti Social Security Cancellation Device so that the children of the boomers do not decide that they would rather not pay for my retirement after a lifetime of making payments?”

    No, I’m counting on the political influence of your vile generation (heh) to be strong enough to win the fight. I don’t believe in magical devices that we can count on to keep the government where we want it. Actual power is the only thing that will do the trick. It’s called “pluralism,” and it only works if the competing groups are at least roughly equivalent. Textual limitations on power are nice, but they can be changed. The real restraint comes in the form of there being sufficient distribution of power to allow the parties to check each other.

    crimethink,

    “joe, whatever perfect, foolproof CFR legislation Congress could pass would have the same problem. It’s just as easy to repeal or gut a CFR law as it is to expand govt.” I agree. CFR is like taking out the trash, not a permanent solution. CFR is only useful as an expression of the power of the non-monied interests to fight for their side.

  54. And there is some interest in not letting our industries implode over safety freakouts a la Europe…

    As far as I know no European industry has imploded over a “safety freakout.” France remains for example, despite the big slaughter last year, remains one of the largest exporters of poultry in the world.

  55. joe,

    You don’t think that the monied interests like CFR? I assure you that a lot of them do.

  56. Grotius,

    To be fair, the CFR I was referring to was the hypothetical foolproof version that doesn’t squelch political speech. Monied interests would assuredly not like such a creature.

    Lucky for them, I’m fairly certain it doesn’t (and can’t) exist.

    joe,

    So, why are you mocking the libertarian solution to buying politicians, while admitting that your own scheme has the same problems?

  57. crimethink,

    Oh stop being fair. 😉

  58. If we had the device, and it failed, how’s about we don’t depend on such devices to do the job?

    The device itself doesn’t do the job, it constrains those who do. I have this quaint notion that elected officials will trouble themselves to become familiar with, obey and respect this document that they take an oath to. That they are not held accountable is a different issue.

  59. Piss and moan about how elected officials and judges trample the Constitution as much as you want. If the people don’t demand that the government follow it, it’s a dead letter. It’s as simple as that.

    You want someone to blame for the collapse of the republic? Look in the mirror. Then get out and do something about it.

  60. Piss and moan about how elected officials and judges trample the Constitution as much as you want.

    Thanks, I will.

    If the people don’t demand that the government follow it, it’s a dead letter. It’s as simple as that.

    True dat.

    Judicial review of the constitutionality of statutes is just a speed bump. If the peeps aren’t willing to stand up for their own liberty (at the ballot box or the barricades), then it will be lost.

  61. The USDA’s approach to mad cow has always been, ignorance is bliss. It may be uncommon, but it is a real danger, unlike things like global warming and Iraq/Iran that people get in a tizzy about.

  62. Soon there will be no cow behind left.

  63. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall the FDA has been successfully sued in the past for endangering the public health by approving drugs that turned out to be bad. Why can’t they be sued for not allowing these test kits?

  64. Gilmore, I think you’re off when you say that people shouldn’t be able to make their own “safe”, “organic”, or “natural” labels, or that there should be only one (presumably government-prescribed, if not government-administered) standard for testing.

    The free market handles issues like this perfectly well already with a variety of mechanisms. There’s a competitive market for charity watchdogs, each with its own standards of what makes an organization above-board. Observant Jews don’t need the government to tell them what is and isn’t kosher. And everyone knows that Consumer Reports will give you a more accurate fuel efficiency rating for a vehicle than the EPA.

    That the USDA and FDA step in to test and certify other products is, at best, a hold-over from some time when only the government could solve some coordination-related market failure, but now just lingers on doing poorly what private enterprise could do quicker, better, and cheaper. At worst, they just exist to give favors like the gem featured in this article to crony capitalists and political donors.

  65. Observant Jews don’t need the government to tell them what is and isn’t kosher.

    New York State thinks they do.

  66. Yes, and how’s that worked out for you? If we had the device, and it failed, how’s about we don’t depend on such devices to do the job?

    So, to recap:

    A rulebook was agreed to and published in 1789.

    The rules have been ignored by the people we elect to uphold them.

    Therefore, the rules need to be thrown out since no one bothers with them anymore.

    And new rules should be written for what we really would like to do, and somehow, these new rules will be upheld better than those that came before.

  67. This is just so transparently fascist, it means they don’t care how it looks. They seem to know the only choices are fascist and communist, and they’re confident the fascist can beat the communist.

    Anyway, I’m sure the company is allowed to get their animals tested. And I’m sure they’re allowed to communicate the results of that test. But what USDA is going to say is that they’re not allowed to sell the product so advertised. They would similarly have liked to stop products from being labeled as not coming from hormone-treated cows, or as not being gamma irradiated, saying that such claims are inherently misleading because consumers should not value such a feature. It’s like those who claimed ballots in 2000 from Fla. were invalid because Jewish & Hispanic voters should not have been voting for Buchanan for prez.

  68. A rulebook was agreed to and published by Plato and Aristotle.

    The rules have been ignored by the people we elect to uphold them.

    Therefore, the rules need to be thrown out since no one bothers with them anymore.

    And new rules should be written for what we really would like to do, and somehow, these new rules will be upheld better than those that came before.

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