The president of the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) is questioning USDA’s decision to abandon established BSE surveillance protocols by retesting samples previously found to be free of the disease. Lindsborg cattleman Tom Toll, in a letter to U.S. Ag Secretary Mike Johanns, said he shares the anger of KLA members who believe they are enduring unnecessary exposure to market risk because of the way USDA is handling the situation.

Cattle and beef markets were extremely volatile for a few days in November 2004 after inconclusive results were revealed on a BSE test. USDA announced June 10 the government’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) had ordered the same tissue be subjected to further BSE testing, with the result being a “weak positive.” USDA is sending the sample to a laboratory in Weybridge, England, for confirmatory testing.

“These actions did nothing to further protect cattle health or increase the safety of U.S. beef,” said Toll. “They served only to unnecessarily place cattle producers at risk of greater economic harm.”

KLA joined the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and many of its state affiliates in criticizing USDA’s actions. Prior to this occasion, beef producers understood that standard protocol was for suspect cattle to be tested using the rapid screening method, followed by the announcement of any inconclusive results and confirmatory testing using the immunohistochemistry method of analysis, better known as the “gold standard.” Toll said the decision by OIG and USDA to conduct additional testing seven months later “will cause as much as two weeks of additional market uncertainty.”

“We insist USDA quickly determine and communicate a plan for resolving this issue,” he said.

Toll’s letter suggested USDA, with input from the beef industry, develop a science-based protocol for BSE testing and adhere to it. His letter reminded Johanns that deviation from established procedures jeopardizes consumer confidence, international trade and the economic well-being of producers.

Consumers have not reacted negatively to the retest situation. No part of the animal in question entered the human food or animal feed supply. Toll said the public has every reason to remain confident in the safety of the beef supply due to prevention measures taken over the past 15 years by the industry and government.

KLA is a trade organization representing the business interests of members at both the state and federal levels. Voluntary dues dollars paid by producers are used for programs that benefit KLA members in the areas of legislative representation, regulatory assistance, legal troubleshooting, communications and the advancement of youth.