DC, November 19, 2004 (ENS): "Early this
morning, we were notified that an inconclusive BSE test
result was received on a rapid screening test used as
part of our enhanced BSE surveillance program."
With these words Thursday, U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) official Andrea Morgan restarted the mad cow
scare that has had the agency scrambling all year to
regain world markets for its beef after one cow was
found with mad cow disease in Washington state last
"The inconclusive result does not mean we have
found another case of BSE in this country. Inconclusive
results are a normal component of screening tests, which
are designed to be extremely sensitive so they will
detect any sample that could possibly be positive,"
said Morgan hopefully.
The animal in question "did not enter the food
or feed chain," she said.
Morgan's department, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS), has sent tissue samples the National
Veterinary Services Laboratories - the national reference
lab for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - which
will run confirmatory testing.
Morgan would give few further details. She did say
that APHIS has begun internal steps to trace the animal,
if further testing were to return a positive result.
Confirmatory results are expected back from the lab
within the next 4 to 7 days. If the test comes back
positive for BSE, the government will provide more information
about the animal and its origin, she said.
"USDA remains confident in the safety of the U.S.
beef supply. Our ban on specified risk materials from
the human food chain provides the protection to public
health, should another case of BSE ever be detected
in the United States."
BSE is caused by misfolded infectious proteins known
as prions that infect the brains and spinal cords of
animals. The fatal brain wasting disease is passed on
when an animal or human consumes infected tissue. The
brains, spinal cords and parts of the digestive tracts
are now known as specified risk materials and the USDA
has passed regulations that aim to ensure these materials
do not become human or animal food.
The human form of mad cow disease is called variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), and it too is invariably
Morgan told reporters that after the first animal was
found to have BSE, agriculture officials would not be
surprised to see other animals with the disease.
"Some subset of these animals may even turn out
to be positive for BSE. While none of us wants to see
that happen, that is not unexpected either. Our surveillance
program is designed to test as many animals as we can
in the populations that are considered to be at high
risk for BSE," she said.
Morgan listed the precautions against BSE that are
now in place in the United States.
- the longstanding ban on imports of live cattle,
other ruminants, and most ruminant products from high-risk
- the Food and Drug Administration's 1997 prohibition
on the use of most mammalian protein in cattle feed;
- an aggressive surveillance program that has been
in place for more than a decade;
- the banning of non-ambulatory cattle from the human
- the process control requirement for establishments
using advanced meat recovery (AMR) systems;
- prohibiting the air-injection stunning of cattle;
- if an animal presented for slaughter is sampled
for BSE, holding the carcass until the test results
have been confirmed negative.