Uncertain BSE test prompts concern


WASHINGTON – All of agriculture held its collective breath late last week to learn whether or not an inconclusive test result for mad cow disease proved false or positive.
Early Thursday morning, Nov. 18, the USDA learned a rapid screening test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, from a cow at an undisclosed location produced inconclusive results.
A second quick test was also inconclusive.
Tissue samples were immediately sent to USDA’s National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, for confirmatory testing. Results were not available for four to seven days.
The animal, tested as part of a targeted high-risk population, did not enter the food or feed chains.
The USDA would not release any information as to the sex, age, breed or location of the animal.
Dr. Andrea Morgan, associate deputy administrator for veterinary services with the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, said such inconclusive test results are not unexpected.
“These tests cast a very wide net,” she said Thursday.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jan Lyons agreed the initial screening tests “are designed to be extremely sensitive.”
“We can’t assume, at this point, that this inconclusive represents a positive case,” the Ohio native said.
Between June 1, 2004, and Nov. 15, the USDA’s enhanced BSE surveillance program tested more than 113,000 samples. This report represents the third inconclusive. The first two, in late June and July, were confirmed negative.
Lyons urged producers and consumers to “feel confident in this system.”
“The bottom line is it did not enter the food supply.”
Officials, however, take all inconclusive test results seriously and USDA initiated trace-backs on the animal’s movements, Morgan said.
Existing firewall. U.S. import controls on live cattle and certain ruminant products were put in place more than 15 years ago and in 1997, FDA finalized its animal feed ban, prohibiting the feeding of most mammalian protein to cattle and other ruminant animals.
Federal agencies also implemented additional measures in January and July 2004 to ensure that no cattle tissues known to be high risk for carrying the BSE agent are included in USDA-regulated products, human foods, dietary supplements and cosmetics.
All cattle headed to slaughter in the United States are first inspected for signs of central nervous system disorders.
Still on rebound. The United States cattle industry is still climbing out of a hole created when a single case of BSE was reported in Washington state last December.
Many international markets closed to U.S. beef, resulting in a 78 percent loss in quantity of beef and beef variety meat exports and an 82 percent loss in value, according to U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Philip Seng.


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