BSE Statement From USMEF President And CEO Philip M. Seng

“On June 24, 2005, testing by the United States Department of Agriculture and the international BSE reference laboratory in Weybridge, England, conclusively identified an animal determined to be carrying Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, also known as mad cow disease). Despite this confirmed case of BSE, top scientists, government experts and leaders in the food industry agree that U.S. beef remains very safe and the risk of BSE to humans is near zero. Strong regulations and firewalls protect consumers, ensuring this animal never entered the food supply.

“The animal was initially identified on November 18, 2004 during part one of an aggressive surveillance program implemented by the USDA and the beef industry to maintain an extraordinarily safe beef supply. Subsequent, more accurate tests in part two of the program were conducted by the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, using the gold standard tests. These tests initially confirmed this animal did not have BSE.

“Subsequently, USDA's independent auditor, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), noted the unusual pattern of conflicting test results during an audit to evaluate the effectiveness of USDA’s BSE surveillance program and testing laboratories. OIG then ordered that another test, using Western Blot protocol, be conducted on an enriched sample from this animal and two others. While the other tests were also confirmed "negative," this sample was declared a "weak positive" and deemed worthy of further testing.

These addition tests have confirmed the presence of BSE in the animal. It is important to remember that by U.S. law this animal was immediately isolated from our food and feed supply and has been destroyed.

“The discovery of this case of BSE was not unexpected by the USDA or the beef industry. An intensive surveillance program is currently underway and nearly 389,000 tests have already been completed without discovery of other cases. The U.S. government is tracing the origins of this animal.

“Consumers should not be alarmed by this finding. During years of testing, the BSE agent has not been found in the beef we eat. Materials believed to potentially carry BSE infectivity are restricted from our food supply.

“These surveillance efforts are part of aggressive programs undertaken to eradicate this disease from the U.S. beef supply. The U.S. government implemented and our industry maintains four effective firewalls to ensure that our consumers remain safe from BSE:

  1. In 1989, the United States was the first country in the world without BSE to ban imports of beef, cattle products and cattle from countries where BSE is prevalent.
  2. In 1990, the United States was the first country in the world without BSE to begin a BSE surveillance and testing program.
  3. In 1997, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned feeding cattle the type of animal-derived protein that can spread BSE. International experts agree that a feed ban breaks the cycle of BSE and assures it will be eliminated. The FDA reports a remarkable 99 percent compliance rate for the feed ban.
  4. In 2004, USDA strengthened its food safety program by banning from the human food supply any cattle that appear ill, are unable to walk or show signs of possible neurological disease. The USDA also prohibited from the food supply any material from animals that could carry the BSE agent. These specified risk materials, or SRMs, include such items as spinal cord and brain.

“The result of these firewalls continues to be the safest supply of beef in the world.”

Additional Information:

The U.S. Beef Supply Is Safe

Humans are at an almost zero risk for contracting BSE. In addition to the efforts mentioned above, several additional reasons contribute to this fact including the following:

A very low percentage of cattle in the world actually carry BSE and in the U.S. that percentage is almost non-existent.

BSE has never been detected in the components of cattle that are typically consumed by humans. The BSE agent is not found in the beef we commonly eat. In fact, after years of research, scientists have never found BSE infectivity in beef muscle or fat.

BSE is an animal disease and is not contagious. It can only be contracted when cattle eat infected feed. FDA banned feeding cattle the animal-derived protein that can spread the disease in 1997 and more than 99 percent of the industry has complied.

The animal testing positive was born before the feed ban in 1997 making them at least eight years of age and was delivered to a facility that does not handle beef for human consumption. The animal was incinerated and was, therefore, not allowed into the animal feed supply.

About the Animal Identified

USDA is currently conducting epidemiologic investigations to confirm the animal’s origin and other information. Again, the carcass of the animal was destroyed and did not enter the food or feed supply of the U.S.

The detection was made during the course of an intensive period of testing by USDA that that so far has examined nearly 389,000 samples, allowing USDA to find the disease if it occurs in as few as 1 in 10 million adult cattle with 99 percent confidence. In other words, this testing could detect BSE even if there were only five animals in the target population in the entire country.

Next Steps in the Quarantine Process

With this case of BSE confirmed, USDA and meat industry will take measures to ensure that no other cattle from this herd or the progeny of this animal will enter the food supply until the presence of BSE can be ruled out. Further, potential sources of the infected feed ingested by this animal will be investigated to ensure compliance with USDA’s 1997 ban of animal-derived protein in feed.

All suspect animals and feed sources will be immediately quarantined until testing for the presence of BSE can be completed.

Key Facts

The U.S. government is working to ensure that this investigation is rapid, accurate and thorough, and we will keep our trading partners and the Organization of International Epizootics informed of all developments.

The U.S. government and private industry have been working with OIE in advancing the science and application of safe trade in animal and animal products. This is especially important for countries that have put in place effective measures over a number of years to manage the risk of BSE and have taken aggressive steps to respond – as the U.S. has done.

The animal was tested as part of USDA's BSE surveillance program. In addition, after the routine quick test, an IHC at the U.S. reference lab (NVSL) at Ames, Iowa, and a later enriched Western Blot at NVSL, this sample was submitted to the international BSE reference laboratory in Weybridge, England, for additional tests.The presumptive positive was only confirmed after this extensive battery of tests, which demonstrates how seriously the United States takes its food safety policies.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. red meat industry and is funded by USDA, exporting companies, and the beef, pork, corn, sorghum and soybean checkoff programs.