Jim McAdams, President, National Cattlemen's Beef Association:
This morning, NCBA Chief Executive Officer Terry Stokes, Vice President of Government Affairs Jay Truitt, Executive Director of Government Affairs Bryan Dierlam and I met with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, on behalf of NCBA's 25,000 members and 64 affiliate organizations. During this meeting, we expressed our members' very deep concerns about recent activities within USDA with regard to BSE testing. We took this opportunity to let Secretary Johanns know - in no uncertain terms - that these actions have created great anxiety within our industry, and have resulted in significant losses for producers forced to market during these uncertain conditions.
We believe that the market uncertainty stemming from last week's report has already resulted in a serious drop in value for the U.S. cattle inventory. No matter how quickly or fully the market rebounds, many producers have suffered very real losses that will never be recovered. This situation will continue to bring volatility and economic harm to our industry as long as uncertainty hangs over the marketplace.
NCBA has requested a full explanation of the circumstances that caused the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to recommend additional testing of previously identified BSE-negative animals. USDA's enhanced surveillance program was intended to measure the prevalence of BSE in the United States, and it has done so with over 380,000 tests over the past year. Even if the sample in question ultimately tests positive, the results of the surveillance program are well within even the most optimistic expectations and projections we had going into the program. So the only reason this particular sample ever became a major concern is the apparent break from established scientific protocol by USDA, which we feel has not been adequately explained.
NCBA supports the enhanced surveillance program, and our concern is not that the program may have yielded a positive test. Our concern is that the program must operate under a consistent and established testing protocol, in which the industry and the American public can have the utmost confidence. Because the animal in question was already identified by a rapid-screen test and removed from the food and feed supply, the most recent actions by USDA and the OIG did not increase the safety of U.S. beef or improve the health of the U.S. cowherd. Instead, they simply put the industry at greater economic risk.
This morning, NCBA renewed its call for USDA to clearly communicate the scientific basis for the testing protocol that it will follow, and the timeframe that the industry can expect to bring this current issue to resolution. We believe it is imperative that USDA clearly restore integrity to the process to avoid further and lasting criticism that can jeopardize consumer confidence and access to international markets, and creates unnecessary market volatility. NCBA remains committed to a science-based approach in addressing these concerns, but we simply cannot tolerate actions that serve political pressures or pseudo-science over a sound surveillance program.
Secretary Johanns was receptive to the issues raised by NCBA. He shares many of our concerns, and expressed his desire for quick resolution to this situation.