U.S. calls off search for mad cows
WASHINGTON, DC, February 10, 2004 (ENS)
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
has closed its investigation into the nation's
first case of mad cow disease because it
is unlikely the remaining animals of interest
can be found, federal officials announced
Monday. Investigators only tracked down
29 of the infected cow's 81 original herdmates,
but officials say there is little to no
risk to from the remaining animals.
"Our investigation is now complete,"
USDA Chief Veterinarian Ron DeHaven said.
"We never expected to be able to find
all of them it is remarkable we found as
many as we did. It is time to move on."
USDA officials announced the discovery
of mad cow disease in the United States
on December 23, 2003 and the investigation
confirmed the infected cow, found in Washington
state, came from a farm in Alberta, Canada.
Fourteen of the herd tracked down by the
investigation are part of a subgroup of
25 that were considered most at risk of
the fatal brain wasting disease. DeHaven
said culling practices suggested the department
would only find 11 of the 25.
"We are very confidant that the remaining
animals represent little risk," he
said. "It would be rare to find two
infected cows in one herd."
Mad cow disease, officially known as bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), spreads
when an animal consumes feed, such as meat
and bone meal, that contains nervous system
tissue from an infected animal.
Humans can get a parallel fatal brain wasting
disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease
(vCJD), by consuming beef from BSE infected
USDA officials said they hope the conclusion
of the investigation will prompt some 40
trading partners to lift their bans on U.S.
An international review panel last week
said the United States had done a thorough
job with its investigation, but warned that
there is a high probability the country
has more BSE infected cattle.
The panel called for stricter safeguards
against the contamination of cattle feed
with brain and spinal cord tissue and increased
testing of slaughtered cows.
DeHaven said the department is reviewing
the recommendations, but intends to stick
with its plan to test 40,000 cattle from
"high risk groups" in 2004. The
Bush administration's budget request for
fiscal year 2005 does not include an increase
for BSE testing.
Some 36 million cattle are slaughtered
annually in the United States - last year
20,000 were tested for BSE.
WASHINGTON, DC, February 6, 2004 (ENS):
Mad cow disease must now be considered "indigenous
to North America," and the United States can no
longer consider its first mad cow "an imported
case," says an international scientific panel advising
the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
At a USDA public hearing in Riverdale, Maryland on
Wednesday, the five member panel said that while the
dairy cow found to be infected with bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) in Washington state last December
was imported from Canada, it probably was not the only
"It is probable that other infected animals have
been imported from Canada and possibly also from Europe,"
the panel warned. "These animals have not been
detected and therefore infective material has likely
been rendered, fed to cattle, and amplified within the
cattle population, so that cattle in the U.S. have also
been indigenously infected."
Mad cow disease, and similar diseases in elk, deer
and humans, are spread by prions - abnormally shaped
proteins that originate as normal components of central
nervous system tissues.
Mad cow disease is not contagious, the panel stressed.
It spreads when an animal consumes feed, such as meat
and bone meal, that contains nervous system tissue from
an infected animal.
Their report advises that United States should test
many more cattle, implement the rapid screening tests
for BSE used in Europe, and exclude brain and spinal
cord material from all human and animal food, including
The panel, which includes members from Switzerland,
Britain, New Zealand, and the United States, is the
same team that advised the Canadian government after
its first case of BSE was found in Alberta in May 2003.
Panel members predicted at the time that more cases
of BSE would surface in Canada too, but to date no more
have been found.
Chaired by Professor Ulrich Kihm of Switzerland, the
group was appointed by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman
to provide an expert opinion after the discovery of
BSE in a downed cow from a Mabton, Washington herd was
made public December 23. Laboratory confirmation of
the disease several days later halted U.S. beef exports
to some 40 countries worth about $3.8 billion annually.
The first U.S. mad cow had already been sent to slaughter
and "the majority" of its brain, spinal cord
and other tissues considered risk materials was rendered
and did not enter the human food chain, the panel said.
This, in conjunction with the fact that beef meat is
considered safe, "calls into question" the
justification for the USDA's recall of some 20 tons
of beef sold for human consumption, the panel said,
while acknowledging that the recall was in accordance
with World Health Organization standards.
The USDA's tracing of the rendered meat and bone meal
that may have been contaminated with risk materials
from the diseased cow was "effective and appropriate,"
but the scientists advised extra precautions to assure
that this contaminated material is destroyed and does
not enter commerce or trade.
The current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) effort
to identify the whereabouts of all animals from the
U.S. mad cow's original herd in Canada is too "resource
intensive" and "should cease," the panel
said, because "it may not be possible to confirm
the death or location of each and every animal."
About half the mad cow's herd mates have been identified.
Instead, the agency should focus resources on the planning,
implementation and enforcement of an extended, targeted,
surveillance program to protect animals and humans from
Unless aggressive surveillance proves the BSE risk
in the United States to be minimal according to international
standards, the sceintists recommend that brain and spinal
cord of all cattle over 12 months of age should be excluded
from both the human food and animal feed chains. Presently,
this risk material is banned from cattle over 30 months
The intestines of cattle of all ages should also be
excluded, the panel said.
In the meantime, until the level of BSE risk has been
established, the panel said it "concedes"
that exclusion of central nervous system, skull, and
vertebral column from cattle over 30 months, and intestines
from cattle of all ages, for use in human food is "a
reasonable temporary compromise."
Tests in Britain, where BSE spread extensively through
cattle in the 1980s and 1990s, showed cows could be
infected when they ate feed that had been contaminated
accidentally when manufactured in premises that legitimately
used mammalian meat and bone meal in feed for pigs and
poultry, the panel warned.
"Data from ongoing studies at the UK Veterinary
Laboratories Agency show that cattle could be orally
infected with as little as 10 milligrams (.0003 of an
ounce) of infectious brain tissue," the panel reported.
The scientists acknowledged that prevention of cross-contamination
at this level is "virtually impossible to deliver"
where mammalian meat and bone meal intended for pig
or poultry feed or pet food is present in feed plants
that produce ruminant feed.
While supporting the need for "rigorous audit
of compliance with feed controls," the panel said
testing of feed and feed ingredients is unlikely to
detect contamination of this low level because of the
limitations of sampling techniques and test sensitivity.
Still, the panel warned, "Cross-contamination
must be prevented throughout the feed chain, from reception
and transportation of feed ingredients, during the manufacturing
process, through transportation and storage of finished
feed, and on farm where mixing, blending and feeding
Fishmeal can still safely be used for cattle feed,
the panel said, provided that "the possibility
for cross-contamination and deliberate adulteration
are excluded" through compliance audits with testing.
On January 26, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
banned the feeding of blood and blood products to cattle,
saying recent scientific evidence suggests that blood
can carry some infectivity for BSE. The agency also
banned downer animals and those that died on farms before
reaching the slaughter houses for use in human food,
dietary supplements and cosmetics.
The FDA also banned the use of poultry litter as cattle
feed. Poultry litter is bedding, spilled feed, feathers,
and fecal matter collected from poultry houses and used
in cattle feed in some areas of the country where cattle
and large poultry raising operations are located near
each other. Poultry feed may legally contain protein
that is banned in cattle feed, such as bovine meat and
The FDA ruled that cattle may no longer be fed "plate
waste," uneaten meat and other meat scraps that
are currently collected from some large restaurant operations
and rendered into meat and bone meal for animal feed.
In addition, animal feed equipment, facilities or production
lines may no longer process or handle both prohibited
and non-prohibited materials and make feed for cattle
as well as chickens or pigs, a practice which could
lead to cross-contamination, the FDA said.
To comply with these rules and with the expert panel's
recommentations, the meat industry will have to separate
and dispose of massive amounts of specified risk materials
as well as meat and bone meal.
The panel recognized that there is no established infrastructure
for these activities and "accepted that a staged
approach may be necessary for implementation."
Exclusion and destruction of such a high volume of
raw material is a massive burden on all countries currently
affected by BSE, the scientists said.
Because cattle are susceptible to BSE at such low doses,
and because there is no commercial processing system
that exists to guarantee destruction of infected materials,
the future use of these risk materials in feed "may
The panel recommended using these animal tissues "as
a fuel source," but not in the manufacture of feed
The panel said that while the USDA has recognized the
importance of a national animal identification system,
it should now be put in place. The USDA has been working
on a traceability system for the past 18 months, but
it has not yet been implemented.
The first U.S. mad cow was a downer animal, not able
to walk due to a uterine rupture while calving. But
the panel acknowledged that downer cattle in general
are more likely to be BSE infected than are healthy
slaughter cattle and may pose a greater risk to public
and animal health.
They must be tested for surveillance purposes and to
prevent potentially infective tissues from entering
the food and feed chains. But since they will be excluded
from supervised slaughter at inspected slaughterhouses,
downer animals may no longer be available for the BSE
surveillance program at these locations.
Therefore, said the panel, it is "imperative"
that the USDA take additional steps, and spend additional
funds, to allow for collection of samples from downer
animals and proper disposal of their carcasses.
The panel recommends a system of financial incentives
to encourage farmers to identify downer animals, and
a strengthening of inspections after slaughter to identify
questionable animals. Even animals that have passed
inspections might have to be randomly sampled for BSE,
the panel suggested.
Veterinary authorities were advised to educate farmers
in "their role as producers of safe food,"
in order to achieve maximum surveillance of potentially
infected downer animals.
To stem the spread of BSE, "Extensive national
coordination and cooperation is imperative, and should
be extended to include the continent of North America,"
the panel said.
The panel suggested that a BSE task force be established
including both governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders,
under the leadership of the USDA in order to assure
that policies are developed and implemented in a consistent,
scientifically valid manner.
Policy actions being considered by the United States
must reduce public health risk for consumer protection,
the panel said, and must limit recycling and amplification
of the agent that causes BSE, establish the level of
effectiveness of measures through surveillance, prevent
any inadvertent introduction of BSE from abroad in the
future, and contribute to the prevention of the spread
of the epidemic worldwide.
Federal, state and local governments alone cannot achieve
these goals, said the panel, and producers, consumers,
private industry, and veterinary professionals should
National Cattlemen's Beef Association legislative chief
Jay Truitt claims the panel is wrong in its prediction
of spreading mad cow disease. "We've done a significant
amount of surveillance in this country," he told
ABC National Rural News, "and what it has shown
us to date is that we don't have the kind of epidemic
levels here in the United States that we've seen take
place in Europe and the United Kingdom."
But Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director with
the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called
the panel's analysis "refreshingly candid,"
and said it shows that the USDA has "not done enough
to protect both the animal and human food supplies."
"USDA should immediately implement the panel's
recommendations, particularly by banning spinal cord
and backbones from cattle 12 months and older from the
human food chain," said DeWaal. "In addition,
the FDA should ban all mammalian and poultry protein
from cattle feed. That's really the only way American
consumers and our trading partners around the world
will have full confidence in the safety of American
"All downer cattle on ranches must be tested,
to ensure that ranchers don't try to hide evidence of
the disease," she said.
Secretary Veneman said Tuesday that the Bush administration's
budget request for fiscal year 2005 proposes $60 million
to manage mad cow disease. If the request is approved
by Congress, the USDA Agricultural Research Service
would get $5 million to conduct advanced research and
development of BSE testing technologies.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
would receive $17 million to continue collecting 40,000
samples to test for BSE, but testing of a larger number
of samples would not be funded.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service would receive
$4 million to conduct monitoring and surveillance of
compliance with the regulations for specified risk materials
and advanced meat recovery.
And $1 million would go to the USDA Grain Inspection,
Packers, and Stockyards Administration to enable rapid
response teams to deal with "BSE related complaints
in the cattle market regarding contracts or lack of
prompt payment," Veneman said.
If the budget request is approved, the USDA would spend
$33 million to accelerate the development of a National
Animal Identification system.
DeWaal says all cattle should wear ID tags, but the
beef industry and not U.S. taxpayers should bear the
expense. "It's not surprising that the administration
would try to subsidize the beef industry in this way,
given that USDA is generously populated with former
meat industry officials," said DeWaal. "But
the expert panel's report clearly shows that the Bush
administration needs to stop compromising with the industry,
and instead act more aggressively to protect the public's
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights