July 27, 2006 -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will soon begin transitioning to an ongoing Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) surveillance program that corresponds to the extremely low prevalence of the disease in the U.S.
"It's time that our surveillance efforts reflect what we now know is a very, very low level of BSE in the United States," said Johanns. "This ongoing surveillance program will maintain our ability to detect BSE, provide assurance that our interlocking safeguards are successfully preventing BSE, while continuing to exceed science-based international guidelines."
The ongoing BSE surveillance program will sample approximately 40,000 animals each year. Under the program, USDA will continue to collect samples from a variety of sites and from the cattle populations where the disease is most likely to be detected, similar to the enhanced surveillance program procedures.
“This is a measured approach taken by USDA after a lengthy and exhaustive survey of our cattle population, “ said Jim Collins, executive director of the Georgia Cattlemen's Association and the Georgia Beef Board. “International trading partners such as Japan have already indicated that this change will not impact their decision to import our beef.”
BSE surveillance is not a food safety program. Human and animal health is protected by a system of interlocking safeguards, including the removal of specified risk materials - those tissues that studies have demonstrated may contain the BSE agent in infected cattle, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's 1997 ruminant to ruminant feed ban. Scientific studies indicate that the longer a feed ban is in place, the lower the prevalence of BSE will become.
“The livelihood of cattle producers depends on delivering safe and wholesome food to dinner tables around the world and to our own families every day, said Dr. Gary Weber of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. “USDA's announcement today provides even further assurance that we're doing just that.”
The new program will not only comply with the science-based international guidelines set forth by the World Animal Health organization (OIE), it will provide testing at a level ten times higher than the OIE recommended level.
USDA has an obligation to provide 30 days notice of the change to contractors who are performing the sampling and testing, so the earliest the new surveillance program would begin is late August. Once the ongoing surveillance program begins, USDA will periodically analyze the surveillance strategy to ensure the program provides the foundation for market confidence in the safety of U.S. cattle.
In April, USDA released an analysis of 7 years of BSE surveillance data. This included data from an enhanced surveillance program, which began in June 2004, as a one-time effort to determine the prevalence of BSE in the United States. The analysis concluded that the prevalence of BSE in the United States is less than 1 case per million adult cattle. The analysis further revealed that the most likely number of cases is between 4 and 7 infected animals out of 42 million adult cattle. The analysis was submitted to a peer review process and a panel of outside experts affirmed the conclusions.
An outline of the ongoing BSE surveillance plan is available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/hotissues/bse.shtml.