Is it time to scale back BSE testing?

SALEM, Ohio – It’s likely several cows in the U.S. currently have BSE, but the number is so low that it may be time to stop rigorous testing, according to the USDA.
An estimate indicates there are probably four to seven cases in the nation’s 42 million-head adult herd.
The estimate comes from a prevalence report released April 28 that looked at the more than 730,000 cattle that have been tested in the past seven years, according to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
This would mean there is less than one case per 1 million adult cattle.
Scaling back. A peer review board is looking over the report, and Johanns said he expects the results this month.
If the report stands, he said there’s little justification for continuing to test approximately 1,000 cows every day. The country is currently spending $1 million a week in testing, estimated Ron DeHaven, the administrator of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
International guidelines for a minimum-risk country is closer to 110 animals per day, Johanns said.
Plans to scale back testing, however, will hinge on the peer review’s findings and talks with trade partners, such as Japan.
Johanns repeatedly said he anticipated Japan would react positively to the report.
Japan shut its border to U.S. beef in December 2003, after the country’s first confirmed case of the brain-wasting disease.
Japan resumed trade briefly five months ago, but closed its border again in January after it found backbone in a beef shipment. Although it isn’t a specified risk material in the U.S., Japan had required it to be removed.
Johanns said he planned to talk about the recent report with his Japanese counterpart, Shoichi Nakagawa, when they meet in Geneva this week.
Testing. BSE testing came from 5,700 locations across the country, including farms, slaughter plants and renderers.
Although the USDA originally targeted testing 268,500 animals under the enhanced BSE surveillance, the number of actual tests has grown to 690,000 in the past two years.
Out of those, two U.S.-born cows have tested positive for BSE.
With safeguards in place and so few cases of the disease, Johanns said he anticipates the recently reported prevalence rate will decrease further.
Limits. Even though testing exceeded original estimates, Sen. Tom Harkin questioned the USDA’s sampling method.
It wasn’t random and not all areas of the U.S. were tested equally, said Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa.
These shortfalls limit the conclusions that can be made, he said.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at
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Dairy cows shipped to U.S. linked to Canada’s mad cow
OTTAWA – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has identified 23 live cattle potentially exposed to the same feed as the 6-year-old dairy cow with confirmed bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.
These animals have been quarantined and will be tested, but investigators continue to trace other animals from the feed cohort, including a number of animals exported to the United States.
Looking for them. As was done during previous investigations, Canadian and American authorities are collaborating fully to trace these animals.
Officials said finding additional cases of BSE in a feed cohort is unlikely, but they’re still trying to locate all animals from this group.
Other investigations. The affected animal’s two most recently born offspring are of interest to this investigation. One of these calves is known to have previously died. The disposition of the other calf remains under investigation.
As part of the feed investigation, Canadian officials are examining opportunities for contamination that may have been present during the manufacture, transportation and storage of feeds and feed ingredients.
Canada’s National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg confirmed the most recent bovine spongiform encephalopathy case April 16 in a cow from British Columbia.
No part of this animal entered the human food or animal feed systems.


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