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USDA Didn't Follow Procedures In '04 BSE Test

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Well-known member
Feb 13, 2005
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USDA Didn't Follow Procedures In '04 BSE Test

By Bill Tomson


February 3, 2006

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--U.S. Department of Agriculture officials failed to

recognize a case of mad-cow disease in November 2004 because they did not

follow standard operating procedures and denied scientists' requests to do

follow-up testing, USDA's Inspector General said in an audit released Thursday.

Scientists at USDA's veterinary laboratory in Iowa told officials in

Washington that conflicting test results from a bovine brain sample made it

prudent to do more testing, but the scientists' recommendations were not

carried out, the report said.

Scientists at Texas A&M University got results suggesting a possible

infection of mad-cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, after

performing initial rapid screening tests. The sample was then sent to USDA's

National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. There, government

scientists performed the same screening tests and got the same results.

But a subsequent immunohistochemistry, or IHC, test produced a negative

result for BSE.

"Faced with conflicting results between the rapid screening and IHC tests,

(USDA) scientists recommended additional testing to resolve the discrepancy ,"

Inspector General auditors said, noting they had "obtained evidence that

indicated additional testing was prudent."

It turned out that the auditors were correct. The Inspector General, reacting

to the conflicting tests, demanded new ones be performed. USDA Secretary Mike

Johanns received word on June 10, 2005, according to his own account, that

further testing had been done and the first native-born case of BSE had been

confirmed in the U.S.

Johanns ordered even more tests be done at the Ames, Iowa, lab and sent

samples to England for testing there as well. On June 24, Johanns confirmed the

case publicly.

Ron DeHaven, administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection

Service, told reporters Thursday that his agency has improved testing policy

by, among other things, requiring a second type of confirmatory test - a

Western blot test - be used together with the IHC in the event of another

suspected BSE case.

"I think we're conceding that we should have done more tests, and that's

evident by the fact that we changed the protocol," DeHaven said.

In November 2004, though, USDA officials chose not to do more testing on the

brain sample because of the faith they put in the IHC method alone, the

Inspector General's report said.

"Also, (USDA officials) believed that conducting additional tests would

undermine confidence in USDA's testing protocols," according to the report.

More important, the Inspector General auditors suggested, were the

conflicting results. They said they came to the conclusion that more testing

was needed "because the rapid screening tests produced six high-positive

reactive results, the IHC tests conflicted, and various standard operating

procedures were not followed."

The Inspector General began its audit of USDA's effort to assess the

prevalence of BSE in the U.S. soon after the department's decision to

significantly expand testing.

USDA had been planning to test 40,000 cattle for BSE as part of its 2004

routine until it discovered in December 2003 a case, and most major import

markets banned U.S. beef.

On June 1, 2004, USDA began its enhanced BSE surveillance program and since

then it has tested over 605,000 cattle.

USDA's DeHaven stressed to reporters that the problems the Inspector General

found with diagnosis made in November 2004 did not cast any doubt on the

hundreds of thousands of other tests that had negative screening test results.

While USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service runs the testing

program, it is the Food Safety and Inspection Service that is responsible for

ensuring BSE-risky material, called specified risk material, is removed from

cattle so it doesn't enter the food supply.

The Inspector General's report said there was no evidence that risky bovine

material entered the food supply, but the auditors noted that nine of the 12

facilities they visited lacked the records to show if the proper procedures

were being followed.

The USDA considers material such as spinal cord to be a risky material if it

comes from cattle 30 months or older, but the auditors said in the report that

USDA relies solely on "meat establishments to determine the age of cattle

slaughtered using documentation and dentition."

Food Safety and Inspection Service Assistant Administrator Kenneth Petersen

told reporters Thursday there were 1,036 violations of BSE safety regulations

at slaughter facilities between January 2004 and May 2005. He stressed that was

a very small percentage of the 8.8 million inspection procedures performed

during that period.


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