USDA reports increased efforts to prevent BSE


Jan 22, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it more than tripled the number of cattle it tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in fiscal year 2002 and is making progress on other regulatory steps to keep BSE out of the country.

USDA tested 19,990 cattle in fiscal 2002, compared with 5,272 the year before, officials announced last week. The department said it tests a sample of the highest-risk animals, including "downer" cattle (those unable to walk at the time of slaughter), animals that die on the farm, older animals, and those showing signs of neurologic disorders.

"Our surveillance level far exceeds international testing standards and is just one component of a multi-faceted regulatory and compliance system that is keeping the United States free of BSE," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman in a news release.

The Office International des Epizooties (OIE), which sets animal health standards for 162 countries, would require a BSE-free nation like the United States to test only 433 cattle for the disease each year, the USDA said. Officials said the nation also exceeds other OIE requirements for countries that wish to claim they are free of BSE, including having a risk analysis and management strategy, an education program, and compulsory notification rules.

USDA officials reported progress on several other measures to keep BSE out of the country. The department originally announced the steps in response to a 3-year, comprehensive BSE risk analysis published by Harvard University in November 2001. The report indicated that the occurrence of BSE in the United States is highly unlikely.

After the Harvard report was published, USDA commissioned a group of scientists to conduct an independent analysis of the report. The committee expects to finish its analysis by June 2003, USDA said.

In December 2002, USDA finalized a rule to help ensure that spinal cord tissue does not end up in meat produced by advanced meat recovery (AMR) systems, officials said. The rule instructs inspectors at beef plants that use vertebral columns as source material in AMR systems to take routine samples to verify that the meat is free of spinal cord tissue. Meat containing such tissue does not meet USDA labeling and inspection requirements.

USDA has proposed another rule dealing with meat derived from AMR systems, officials said. The rule would clarify that vertebral column should not be used as a source material unless the firm has effective process-control measures to ensure that central nervous system tissue is kept out of the resulting meat. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) plans to call for additional comments on the rule by August 2003, and a final rule is expected by December, officials said.

In addition, FSIS plans to ban by March of this year the use of air-injection stunning devices to immobilize cattle during slaughter. The rule will be aimed at stunning devices that may accidentally force visible pieces of brain and spinal cord tissue, called macro-emboli, into the circulatory system of stunned cattle, officials said.

USDA also plans to issue a notice in February that people who deal with dead, dying, diseased, and downer animals are required to register with FSIS. The aim of the rule is to help investigators trace the source of BSE if it is ever detected and to help the Food and Drug Administration enforce its ban on the use of most mammalian protein in feed intended for cows and other ruminants.

See also:
USDA news release

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