Published Date: 2004-05-11 23:50:00
Subject: PRO/AH> BSE surveillance - USA (02)
Archive Number: 20040511.1275
BSE SURVEILLANCE - USA (02)
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: 8 May 2004
From: Alfonso Rodriguez <arodriguezm@SaludFMV.org>
Source: SACBEE News [edited]
Mad cow testing to expand, agriculture chief says new cases wouldn't
Nearly 6 months after the 1st-ever case of mad cow disease was discovered
in a Holstein at a Washington State dairy farm, the Agriculture Department
is finally expected to launch an expanded testing program in Jun 2004.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, along with other Agriculture
Departmental and industry officials, insist that the nation's meat supply
is safe despite critics who say the government still isn't doing enough to
Nevertheless, on Fri 7 Apr Veneman said that she wouldn't be surprised if
the expanded testing program ended up finding more infected animals.
Current plans call for testing up to 400 000 animals over a period of 12 to
18 months for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). That's 10 times as
many inspections as the department planned to conduct prior to the
discovery of the infected cow 2 days before Christmas [25 Dec 2003].
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, however, have suggested that as many as 3
to 4 million of the 35 million cattle slaughtered every year must be tested
to assess the health of the nation's herds.
"There is certainly a likelihood we will find more (diseased) cows,"
Veneman said during a conference on food-safety sponsored by the Consumers
Federation of America.
Mad cow disease was 1st discovered in Britain in the 1980s. Since then,
more than 181 000 cases have been reported in 2 dozen countries. Humans can
get a form of the disease, variant Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease, by eating
contaminated meat. The human form of the disease is always fatal, and more
than 150 people, most of them in Britain, have died.
Though Japan, and some European countries, test all of their cattle for BSE
before slaughter, Veneman said there was no scientific justification for
such a comprehensive program in the United States.
"We are committed to an effective BSE program, and we use science to guide
us," Veneman said.
But the chief executive officer of a major Kansas cattle operation said
Veneman, and the Bush administration, were under pressure from the industry
not to expand testing any further and have used science as a "cover" to
hold down costs.
"The government needs to step back and re-evaluate its position," John
Stewart, of Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, said during the conference.
In Apr 2004, the department blocked Creekstone's plan to test all of its
cattle for mad cow disease, saying the tests offered no guarantee that
animals weren't infected with BSE, noting that a panel of international
experts said a total testing program wasn't called for, scientifically.
Stewart said the real issue was that a handful of packers, who control 80
percent of the nation's meat supply, fear that a broader testing program
would cut into their profits. But, Stewart said, the tests would cost only
USD 20 per animal and add only 4 cents to the price of a pound of ground beef.
And, Stewart said, consumers would be willing to pay a premium for meat
from tested cattle.
"The science is still fuzzy, unclear," he said. "At some point, it will
clarify itself. In the meantime, I propose testing be allowed."
Veneman disagreed. "These are not food-safety tests," she said. "They are
animal surveillance tests for animal diseases."
Veneman also said the department had launched an investigation into the
alleged violation of mad cow testing procedures involving a suspect cow in
Texas sent to a rendering plant before tissue samples could be taken.
Department officials said no part of the animal had entered the human food
A department veterinarian said the cow was displaying symptoms of a central
nervous system disorder, which can also be a sign of BSE. Under established
procedures, the animal should have been held until tissue samples were taken.
"We quickly admitted it should have been tested," Veneman said. "There was
some miscommunication. We are investigating this to the fullest extent."