Agriculture Dept. redirects $7 million to mad cow research

WASHINGTON, DC, March 21, 2005 (ENS): The U.S. Department of Agriculture has redirected almost $2 million in funding to conduct research on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns made the announcement during keynote remarks at the National Restaurant Association's Food Safety Summit on Friday.

In addition, said Johanns, $5 million has been awarded to 17 colleges and universities to establish a Food Safety Research and Response Network.

"In a rapidly changing world marketplace, science is the universal language that must guide our rules and policies, rather than subjectivity or politics," said Johanns.

"Expanding our research efforts to improve the understanding of BSE and other food related illness pathogens will strengthen the security of our nation's food supply. These projects will help improve food safety by enhancing our research partnerships with the academic community and establish another tool to aid our response to food related disease outbreaks."

The BSE research funds, redirected by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), will be used for new projects and facilities.

The newly funded projects include an international collaboration with the Veterinary Laboratory Agency in Great Britain to study the biology of the BSE agent.

BSE is a relatively new disease of cattle. It was first recognized and defined in the United Kingdom in November 1986. It reached its peak in 1992, when 36,680 UK cases were confirmed, and has declined since then.

Two other international collaborations were funded one with the Italian BSE Reference Laboratory to evaluate present diagnostic tools for detecting atypical BSE cases, and the other with the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain to compare North American and European BSE strains.

About $750,000 will go toward a biocontainment facility now under construction at the ARS National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa. These facilities will eventually allow the long-term study of BSE infection in cattle and other large animals, which can take a decade or more.

ARS developed the immunohistochemistry test that is currently used as the gold standard in the United States to confirm a diagnosis of BSE. ARS has an annual budget of nearly $10 million for research into transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and 15 scientists involved in the research.

The Food Safety Research and Response Network, spearheaded by North Carolina State University, will include a team of more than 50 food safety experts from 18 colleges and universities who will investigate several of the most prevalent food related illness pathogens.

Pathogens like E.coli, Salmonella and Campylobactor will be studied to determine where they are found in the environment, how they are sustained and how they infect herds.

The group also will serve as a response team that can be mobilized to conduct focused research to control major episodes of food related illnesses. Episodes could include investigation of health problems associated with agricultural bioterrorism and the deliberate contamination of agricultural commodities.

USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service provided funding for the $5 million award.

The 17 other institutions in the project are: Cornell University, Iowa State University, McMasters University, Mississippi State University, North Dakota State University, The Ohio State University, Tuskegee University, University of Arizona, University of California at Davis, University of California at Berkeley, University of Florida, University of Illinois, University of Kentucky, University of Minnesota, University of Montreal, Washington State University, and West Texas A&M University.

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