U.S. and Canada Cooperating on Mad Cow Investigation
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to work with Canadian officials to verify the origin of the dairy cow slaughtered in Washington State in December 2003 that was found to have suffered from bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as BSE or mad cow disease.
During a December 31 briefing, USDA and other food safety officials outlined efforts to date to track both the origin of the cow and the whereabouts of other cattle that may have entered the United States at the same time. They also detailed a series of new rules ordered by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to bolster existing protections against the spread of BSE.
Records indicate that the animal was approximately 6-1/2 years old at the time of slaughter. USDA is working with Canada to conduct DNA testing to verify that the correct animal has been identified, USDA Chief Veterinarian Ron DeHaven said. He added that DNA testing was expected to begin December 31, with results available as early as the first week in January.
Veneman has called for a team of international experts to review the U.S. investigation and make recommendations, and Dehaven told reporters that the team would be similar to the group that conducted such a review in Canada. It will be led by Dr. Ulrich Kihm, former chief veterinary officer of Switzerland, DeHaven said. In addition to Kihm, USDA has tentative commitments from: William Hueston, director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, University of Minnesota; Dagmar Heim, chief of the BSE control program in the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office; and Stuart MacDiarmid, a BSE expert with the government of New Zealand.
On December 30 Veneman announced additional safeguards to bolster the U.S. protection systems against BSE and further protect public health. She said the policies would further strengthen protections against BSE by: removing certain animals and specified risk material and tissues from the human food chain; requiring additional process controls for establishments using advanced meat recovery (AMR); holding meat from cattle that have been targeted for BSE surveillance testing until the test has confirmed negative, and prohibiting the air-injection stunning of cattle.
Veneman also announced that USDA will begin immediate implementation of a verifiable system of national animal identification. The development of such a system has been under way for more than 1-1/2 years to achieve uniformity, consistency and efficiency across this national system.
The officials said that the specific actions to be taken by USDA and its Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) include:
Downer Animals -- Effectively immediately, USDA will ban all downer cattle -- cows that have been injured or are too sick to walk -- from the human food chain.
Product Holding --- FSIS inspectors will no longer mark cattle tested under the BSE surveillance program as "inspected and passed" until confirmation is received that the animals have tested negative for BSE.
Specified Risk Materials [SRM] -- USDA will enhance its regulations by declaring as specified risk materials skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia, eyes, vertebral column, spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of cattle over 30 months of age and the small intestine of cattle of all ages. This designation will prohibit the use of these materials in the human food supply. Tonsils from all cattle are already considered inedible and therefore do not enter the food supply.
Advanced Meat Recovery -- AMR is an industrial technology that removes muscle tissue from the bone of beef carcasses under high pressure without incorporating bone material when operated properly. FSIS has previously had regulations in place that prohibit spinal cord from being included in products labeled as "meat." The new regulation expands that prohibition to include other nerve tissue.
Air-Injection Stunning -- To ensure that portions of the brain are not dislocated into the tissues of the carcass as a consequence of humanely stunning cattle during the slaughter process, FSIS is issuing a regulation to ban the practice of air-injection stunning.
Mechanically Separated Meat -- USDA will prohibit use of mechanically separated meat in human food.
Following is the transcript of the USDA technical briefing from December 31
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Technical Briefing and Webcast with
U.S. Government Officials on BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] Case
December 31, 2003
DR. RON DEHAVEN (USDA