BSE investigation: Time to call it quits


SALEM, Ohio – The USDA followed an international panel’s advice and ended its bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) investigation Feb. 9.

The review panel determined there is little left to gain by continuing the crusade to find all cattle associated with the BSE-positive cow.

“We feel very confident that the remaining animals, the ones that we were not able to positively identify, represent little risk,” said Ron DeHaven, chief veterinary officer.

Need better ID. The review team agreed and said it may be impossible to confirm the death or location of every animal.

“This is a problem faced by all countries which do no have an effective traceability system,” the report concluded.

The panel encouraged the United States to switch gears and now focus attention, and money, on a national identification system.

Not an ‘imported’ case. The team also determined “the first case of BSE in the United States cannot be considered in isolation from the whole cattle production system in North America.”

It said the significance of this BSE case cannot be dismissed by considering it “an imported case.”

Getting the grade. Since the December day when the United States confirmed its first case of mad cow disease, cattle haven’t been the only ones under the microscope.

Perhaps the brightest spotlight glared on the USDA.

So how did the Department of Agriculture measure in its first major test?

Pretty well, said the international review team hired to scrutinize the country’s response to the brain-wasting disease.

‘Misses the mark.’ Overall, the USDA was happy to hear the team’s compliments of how it handled the case.

But some cattle circles weren’t as impressed.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said the review “misse[d] the mark,” and Ohio Cattlemen’s spokesperson Elizabeth Harsh said it didn’t give credit to BSE measures already in place.

The state group hoped the report would recognize the firewalls the United States and Canada started in 1989 to reduce the risk of BSE, Harsh said.

Instead, the report put the risk of BSE at the same level as in Europe, which the groups deny.

Agreement. But Harsh said the beef association agrees with other statements in the report, like the need for a national animal identification system for disease monitoring and traceback.

Both Harsh and the review team also say its necessary to find ways to test downer cows, which are excluded from supervised slaughter, and ways to dispose of their bodies.

Japan’s stance. U.S. trading partner Japan also wasn’t swayed by the findings.

Japan, a top importer of U.S. beef, banned the exports soon after the BSE discovery was announced.

According to Kyodo News, U.S. measures “fall short of Japan’s safety standards.”

All cattle slaughtered for human consumption in Japan are tested for BSE.

The panel’s review said it would be “unjustified” to test all cattle slaughtered. It recommends, instead, “a random sample of healthy slaughter cattle over 30 months should be strongly considered.”

The U.S. Meat Export Federation urged Japan and other trading partners to look at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis BSE assessment.

This study, completed before BSE was found in the United States, said the government and industry took proper precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

BSE analysis: Final numbers

* The BSE-positive Washington dairy cow was born April 9, 1997, on a dairy farm in Alberta, Canada. She was moved to the United States in September 2001 with 80 other cows from that Alberta dairy.

* According to the World Organization for Animal Health, animals born at the Alberta premise one year before and one year after should be considered a risk. This meant 25 of the 81 cows moved to the United States were at risk for BSE.

* Fourteen of these cows were identified. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service determined the rest were likely dead because of normal culling on dairies.

* Across Washington, Oregon and Idaho, 704 cows were killed and tested because of their possible relationship to the BSE-positive cow. All tests came back negative.

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