USDA expands mad cow checks

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WASHINGTON – The United States is beefing up its surveillance effort for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also commonly called mad cow disease.

The goal is 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.

Cast broader net. The focus of USDA’s enhanced surveillance effort will be the highest risk populations for the disease, but USDA will increase the number of animals surveyed and will include a random sampling of apparently normal, aged animals.

In fiscal year 2004, the USDA sampled 20,543 animals, a sample designed to detect the disease if it occurred in one animal per million adult cattle.

The enhanced program could detect BSE even if there were only five positive animals in the entire country, according to Veneman.

Sampling some 201,000 animals would allow for the detection of BSE at the same rate at a 95 percent confidence level.

CCC funds. Veneman said that $70 million will be transferred from the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation to fund the enhanced program.

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.

Hold carcasses. 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.

June target date. USDA expects to begin the program June 1.

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.

Rapid tests. 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.

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