WASHINGTON – Apparently responding to Japan’s demands that U.S. cattle bound for its borders be tested for BSE, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced details for an expanded surveillance effort for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or mad cow disease.
“We are committed to ensuring that a robust U.S. surveillance program continues in this country,” said Veneman, speaking to reporters during a telephone press conference. “This one-time extensive surveillance plan reflects the recommendation of the international scientific review panel.”
On Dec. 30, Veneman announced that an international scientific review panel would review USDA’s investigation into the BSE find in Washington state and provide recommendations for future actions.
Last month, this panel, operating as a subcommittee of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Foreign Animal and Poultry Diseases, recommended a one-year enhanced surveillance program targeting cattle from the populations considered at highest risk for the disease, as well as a random sampling of animals from the aged cattle population.
The panel also complimented USDA on its investigative efforts as well as commented that the removal of specified risk materials from the food supply was the single most important action USDA took to protect public health.
USDA’s BSE surveillance program historically has been focused on the cattle populations where it is most likely to be found, including those condemned at slaughter because of signs of central nervous system disorders, non-ambulatory cattle and those that die on farms.
In the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, USDA sampled 20,543 animals – a sample size designed to detect the disease if it occurred in one animal per million adult cattle with a 95 percent confidence level, which is 47 times the international standard for low-risk countries.
Japanese officials have said their government would continue to bar imports of U.S. beef until all cattle purchased for shipment to Japan be tested for mad cow disease. They cited surveys indicating that 87 percent of Japanese consumers want imported beef tested for BSE.
The new testing program appeared to be an attempt to address public sentiment in Japan, which was the largest purchaser of U.S. beef until the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in Washington state in December.
Veneman said USDA is transferring $70 million from the Commodity Credit Corp. to fund the enhanced program with the goal to test as many cattle as possible in the high-risk population as well as to test a sampling of the normal, aged cattle population over a 12- to 18-month time frame.
The enhanced surveillance plan incorporates recommendations from the international scientific review panel and the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis; both have reviewed and support the plan.
Veneman said the primary focus of USDA’s enhanced surveillance effort will continue to be the highest risk populations for the disease, but USDA will greatly increase the number of target animals surveyed and will include a random sampling of apparently normal, aged animals.
USDA will build on previous cooperative efforts with renderers and others to obtain samples from the targeted high-risk populations, which are banned from the human food supply.
Under the enhanced program, using statistically geographic modeling, sampling some 268,000 animals would allow for the detection of BSE at a rate of 1 positive in 10 million adult cattle with a 99 percent confidence level. In other words, the enhanced program could detect BSE even if there were only five positive animals in the entire country. Sampling some 201,000 animals would allow for the detection of BSE at the same rate at a 95 percent confidence level.
The sampling of apparently normal animals will come from the 40 U.S. slaughter plants that handle 86 percent of the aged cattle processed for human consumption each year in the United States. The carcasses from these animals will be held and not allowed to enter the human food chain until test results show the samples are negative for BSE.
USDA will begin immediately to prepare for the increased testing, with the anticipation that the program will be ready to be fully implemented June 1, 2004. In the meantime, BSE testing will continue at the current rate, which is based on a plan to test 40,000 animals in FY 2004.
Testing will be conducted through USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and a network of laboratories around the country.
USDA is also working to approve rapid tests for use in the testing program. USDA will help defray costs incurred by industries participating in the surveillance program for such items as transportation, disposal and storage, and carcasses being tested.
Detailed information on the surveillance plan can be found at www.usda.gov.