BSE test omitted for downer cow in Texas

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May 4, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors at a slaughter plant in Texas neglected to test a cow for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) after the cow showed suspicious signs, the USDA said yesterday.

A USDA veterinarian ruled the cow unfit for human consumption after it staggered and fell, the department said. Under standard procedures, inspectors should have collected samples from the slaughtered cow for BSE testing, but that wasn't done, and the carcass was sent to rendering, the statement said. No products from the cow entered the human food supply, officials said.

The incident, which occurred Apr 27 at Lone Star Beef in San Angelo, Tex., comes as the United States is trying to persuade trading partners to lift bans on American beef that were imposed when a BSE case was found in Washington state last December. The USDA said it is investigating why the cow wasn't tested.

The USDA issued a statement on the incident in response to rumors about a BSE case in Texas. The statement was attributed to Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and Dr. Barbara Masters, acting administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

An FSIS veterinarian saw the cow stagger and fall, "indicating either an injury or potentially a central nervous system (CNS) disorder or other health condition," the statement said.

"Standard procedures call for animals condemned due to possible CNS disorder to be kept until APHIS officials can collect samples for testing," the statement continued. "However, this did not occur in this case and the animal was sent to rendering. The rendered product from this animal did not enter the human food chain; it presents no risk to human health."

Food and Drug Administration rules forbid the feeding of products from cattle or other ruminants to other cattle, the statement added. "We continue to investigate the circumstances of this case and will take appropriate actions once all information is available," the statement said.

The USDA has tested about 20,000 cattle for BSE each of the last 2 years. In June the department plans to launch an expanded 18-month surveillance program in which it hopes to test hundreds of thousands of cattle to ascertain the prevalence of BSE. Officials have estimated that about 446,000 cattle may fit the testing criteria, including inability to walk and signs of possible CNS disease. The program will also target about 20,000 apparently healthy older cattle.

The expanded testing program will include comprehensive training on BSE sampling protocols for APHIS and FSIS employees, state and private veterinarians, and veterinary technicians, according to DeHaven and Masters. "The additional training will help ensure that clear communications occurs regarding collecting samples," the statement said.

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