The United States government should “use all available science to assure the safety” of the national food supply, including preventing BSE contamination, said U.S. Representative Charlie Stenholm, (D) of the Texas 17th Congressional District, during a press conference at the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.

Stenholm conceded that testing every animal that goes to slaughter is not feasible but recommended that “downed animals” should be tested and suspect carcasses hung in coolers until negative tests come in.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture should continue to do what it is doing and leave no stone unturned” to trace the origins of the animal recently diagnosed with BSE, or mad cow disease.

Stenholm said USDA and Canadian officials have determined, “with a high degree of confidence” that the infected cow came from Canada. Traceability, he said, should play a key role in assuring the safety of the U.S. beef supply.

“We have to develop a better system. A national identification program is absolutely necessary. That became apparent when this BSE case was traced back to Canada.”

Stenholm said a hearing on BSE identification and prevention likely will take place early this year. “We need to get as much information as possible from the current situation. We need to determine if this is a minor problem, an isolated instance. This is the first case of BSE ever diagnosed in the United States. That's one cow out of millions.”

Stenholm said the incident indicates that a country of origin bill, if done correctly, could be useful in tracing contaminated animals. “But we have to do it right.”

Stenholm also praised Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman and the USDA for the way they have handled the BSE crisis and for assuring the public that the food supply is safe.

He said university research will be necessary to discover better ways of assuring food safety. Unbiased information, Stenholm said, is crucial. “Don't color it. If we do, the rest of the world will follow our lead.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com