USDA will recheck BSE tests

SALEM, Ohio – The USDA will now double-check inconclusive BSE tests before alerting the public.

Earlier this summer, two cows tested inconclusive for the brain-wasting bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and these results were announced immediately. Additional testing then confirmed the cattle did not have the disease.

Now, the public will no longer be immediately notified when a cow tests inconclusive. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will instead first re-test the animal.

If this result is also inconclusive, it will be announced and confirmatory testing will be done at National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, said the department’s chief veterinarian John Clifford in an Aug. 4 statement.

‘Normal.’ Earlier this summer, Clifford emphasized inconclusives are a “normal” part of screening tests. Although he said he anticipated more inconclusive results, he did not comment on how many false positives are expected.

He said the screening tests are designed to be “extremely sensitive” so they can detect any potentially positive sample.

In a press conference June 30, Clifford said early, unconfirmed results were being announced because “USDA wants to be very transparent with this issue.”

Numbers. Rapid screening tests began June 1 in response to the country’s first BSE case late last year.

As of Aug. 6, 28,254 cows had been tested, and all results were negative.

Support. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association supports this change, noting the move reduces market volatility. Cattle prices plummeted after the first inconclusive result, causing fear the market would react this way each time a preliminary finding was reported.

“[The testing change] conforms to the manufacturer’s recommendations and is consistent with practices by other countries, which have identified the best scientific practices to identify the disease,” said the association’s president, Jan Lyons.


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