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January 05, 2004   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
January 05, 2004

USDA has confirmed that 81 of the 82 animals listed on the Canadian health certificate that includes the eartag number of the index cow entered the United States through Oroville, WA, on September 4, 2001. One of those 82 has now been located at a Mattawa, WA, dairy operation, which is now under a state hold order. USDA's interest in finding those cows is not because BSE can spread from cow to cow, but because it is possible they may have shared a common feed source when young. Please note, though, that even at the height of the outbreak in the United Kingdom, it was uncommon to have more than just one or two infected cattle in the same herd.

USDA continues to work very closely with Canadian officials on the epidemiological investigation. DNA testing on the index cow is being conducted in the United States and Canada to verify that the correct animal has been identified. DNA results could be available as early as next week. Two Canadian epidemiologists are in the United States to assist USDA, and, similarly, two USDA epidemiologists are in Canada.

Given the Secretary's announcement to prohibit downer cattle from slaughter establishments, questions have arisen about what that means in terms of USDA's BSE surveillance program. USDA has tested 20,000 animals annually for each of the last 2 years, and approximately 75 percent of these were downers at slaughter. USDA is working with industry to reposition USDA's efforts to collect samples on-farm, at rendering facilities, and at facilities where meat products are harvested for non-edible purposes. USDA is committed--and the industry shares this commitment--to ensuring that a very robust surveillance program for BSE continues in this country. USDA will be working very closely with the rendering and animal disposal industry and other government agencies in the days and weeks to come to ensure that USDA continues to have access to the population of animals considered to be at highest risk for BSE.

The Secretary has called for a team of international experts to review our investigation and make national recommendations. They will conduct this review following the completion of the epidemiological investigation of the single BSE-positive cow in the United States. The team will be similar to the group that conducted such a review in Canada, and will be led by Dr. Ulrich Kihm, the former Chief Veterinary Officer of Switzerland, who now owns a consulting company, Safe Food Solutions, Inc. In addition to Dr. Kihm, USDA has tentative commitments from: William Hueston, Director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, University of Minnesota; Dagmar Heim, chief of BSE control program in the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office; and Stuart MacDiarmid, a BSE expert with the government of New Zealand. We are very much looking forward to getting that groups' review of the operations we are currently conducting as well as recommendations about how we can continue to build upon an already-robust program to prevent BSE from taking hold in the United States.

On December 30, 2003, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced additional safeguards to bolster the U.S. protection systems against BSE and further protect public health. The policies will further strengthen protections against BSE by removing certain animals and specified risk material and tissues from the human food chain; requiring additional process controls for establishments using advanced meat recovery (AMR); holding meat from cattle that have been targeted for BSE surveillance testing until the test has confirmed negative; and prohibiting the air-injection stunning of cattle. The Secretary also announced that USDA will begin immediate implementation of a verifiable system of national animal identification. The development of such a system has been underway for more than a year and a half to achieve uniformity, consistency and efficiency across this national system.

On the morning of December 25, the BSE world reference lab in Weybridge, England, confirmed USDA's December 23 preliminary diagnosis of BSE in a single nonambulatory dairy cow that had been slaughtered on December 9 at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Washington State.

At the time of USDA's preliminary diagnosis on December 23, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a Class II recall for the facility's entire day's production. The recall was classified as Class II due to the extremely low likelihood that the beef being recalled contains the infectious agent that causes BSE.

The herd the affected animal came from is under a State quarantine in Washington. While USDA has not made any decisions on the dispositions of this herd, any cattle that die on the farm will be tested for BSE.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has determined the following additional information through its traceback investigation:

* To recap, the Canadian health certificate, dated August 28, 2001, lists 82 eartag numbers from cattle that were part of a herd dispersal in Alberta, Canada. USDA has confirmed that 81 of those 82 animals crossed into the United States in September, 2001. It is believed that one of the 82 remained in Canada. Eleven of the 81 have been accounted for. One is the index cow, nine are part of the index herd, and one has been located on a premise in Mattawa, WA. USDA is working to track the remaining 70 animals and will share information as it becomes available.

* There are now three facilities under hold orders as USDA's epidemiological work continues. The first facility is the index herd. The second is a nearby facility that has the index cow's recently born bull calf. The third is the dairy operation in Mattawa, WA.

USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) will also take the following actions:

* Downer Animals. Effectively immediately, USDA will ban all downer cattle from the human food chain. USDA will continue its BSE surveillance program.

* Product Holding. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors will no longer mark cattle tested under the BSE surveillance program as "inspected and passed" until confirmation is received that the animals have, in fact, tested negative for BSE. This new policy will be in the form of an interpretive rule that will be published in the Federal Register.

To prevent the entry into commerce of meat and meat food products that are adulterated, FSIS inspection program personnel perform ante- and post-mortem inspection of cattle that are slaughtered in the United States. As part of the ante-mortem inspection, FSIS personnel look for signs of disease, including signs of central nervous system impairment. Animals showing signs of systemic disease, including those exhibiting signs of neurologic impairment, are condemned. Meat from all condemned animals has never been permitted for use as human food.

* Specified Risk Material. Effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, USDA will enhance its regulations by declaring as specified risk materials skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia, eyes, vertebral column, spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of cattle over 30 months of age and the small intestine of cattle of all ages, thus prohibiting their use in the human food supply. Tonsils from all cattle are already considered inedible and therefore do not enter the food supply. These enhancements are consistent with the actions taken by Canada after the discovery of BSE in May.

In an interim final rule, FSIS will require federally inspected establishments that slaughter cattle to develop, implement, and maintain procedures to remove, segregate, and dispose of these specified risk materials so that they cannot possibly enter the food chain. Plants must also make that information readily available for review by FSIS inspection personnel. FSIS has also developed procedures for verifying the approximate age of cattle that are slaughtered in official establishments. State inspected plants must have equivalent procedures in place.

* Advanced Meat Recovery. AMR is an industrial technology that removes muscle tissue from the bone of beef carcasses under high pressure without incorporating bone material when operated properly. AMR product can be labeled as "meat." FSIS has previously had regulations in place that prohibit spinal cord from being included in products labeled as "meat." The regulation, effective upon publication in the Federal Register, expands that prohibition to include dorsal root ganglia, clusters of nerve cells connected to the spinal cord along the vertebrae column, in addition to spinal cord tissue. Like spinal cord, the dorsal root ganglia may also contain BSE infectivity if the animal is infected. In addition, because the vertebral column and skull in cattle 30 months and older will be considered inedible, it cannot be used for AMR.

In March 2003, FSIS began a routine regulatory sampling program for beef produced from AMR systems to ensure that spinal cord tissue is not present in this product. In a new interim final rule announced today, establishments have to ensure process control through verification testing to ensure that neither spinal cord nor dorsal root ganglia is present in the product.

* Air-Injection Stunning. To ensure that portions of the brain are not dislocated into the tissues of the carcass as a consequence of humanely stunning cattle during the slaughter process, FSIS is issuing a regulation to ban the practice of air-injection stunning.

* Mechanically Separated Meat. USDA will prohibit use of mechanically separated meat in human food.

Consumers with other food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

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