January 2, 2004

 

BSE Test Animals Banned From Food Chain

 

In the aftermath of the mad cow case in the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has belatedly issued a new regulation prohibiting the meat from any animal tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, to be released into the food chain until test results for that animal are back.

 

Speaking at a news conference, Veneman also said meat from any downer animal - an animal that can't stand or walk - will be prohibited from entering the U.S. food supply.

 

"Effective immediately, USDA will ban all downer cattle from the human food chain," the department said in a statement released Tuesday. "USDA will continue its BSE surveillance program."

 

The single Holstein cow that USDA confirmed positive for BSE on Dec. 23 was a downer. USDA decided to test the cow's brain for BSE, but meat from the animal was allowed to be sent for further food processing before those tests were completed and returned positive.

 

USDA Chief Veterinarian Ron DeHaven told reporters at the press conference that the new measures announced by Veneman mean USDA will "not allow non-ambulatory animals to enter the food chain. For those animals that do end up at a slaughter plant that then become non-ambulatory, we would certainly target those for testing and we would do a test-and-hold on those carcasses."

 

Downer cattle are targeted by USDA officials at slaughter houses for BSE testing, but now that they are banned from being taken there veterinarians will have to find them elsewhere.

 

"Obviously, we're going to be looking at other ways to test downer cattle other than at a slaughter plant," Veneman said. "We will look at a whole variety of actions and whether or not that involves on-farm (testing) is undetermined at this point."

 

USDA veterinarians have the authority to secure samples from cattle that die on farms, but when it comes to downer animals, the department must wait until they are brought to the slaughterhouse to do testing.

 

Veneman said another possibility being considered is to set up for BSE testing at rendering facilities because downer cattle can still be brought there for processing into animal feed and other products.

 

Lester Crawford, deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said said FDA officials will work with USDA to expand BSE surveillance at rendering plants.

 

The decision to ban downer cattle from the human food supply will not divert more than 200,000 head from slaughter houses and that, Veneman said, will have little effect on the food supply.

 

"I don't anticipate a market response to this in terms of increasing consumer prices because I think that the amount...is a very small number," she said.

 

Veneman also stressed that "our food supply and the public health remain safe" and U.S. "consumer confidence and demand for beef are still relatively strong."

 

American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle said Tuesday in a separate press conference, "The majority of non-ambulatory livestock, if inspected and passed by a USDA veterinarian, are safe for human consumption."

 

Mark Dopp, the meat group's general counsel, said USDA may soon modify the new rule so as not to prohibit all downer cattle from the food supply, but rather only those that present a BSE risk.