To: NMA members

Fr: Rosemary Mucklow, Executive Director

Re: Presumptive Positive BSE Case Found in U.S.

December 23, 2003

 “The finding of a single non-ambulatory dairy cow presumptive positive for BSE, slaughtered in a small USDA-inspected plant in Washington, is confirmation that USDA’s targeted sampling system is working, and should not be a cause of concern about the safety of beef produced in the United States,” said Rosemary Mucklow, Executive Director of National Meat Association. The finding was announced by Agriculture Secretary Veneman at a USDA news conference late Tuesday, December 23.

Mucklow noted that this first finding of the disease in the United States cattle herd is not entirely a surprise, but should be considered a reassurance to American consumers that the efforts to target testing to the most likely livestock to be infected, the non-ambulatory, and the removal from the human food chain at slaughter of potentially infected tissue from the brain, spinal cord and distal ileum are added safeguards that the BSE surveillance program is working.

Mucklow noted that systems are in place to prevent this disease, including livestock testing since 1990, through surveillance and control of feed materials to prevent ruminant materials being returned to the livestock food supply. Additionally, there are safeguards in place such as ante and post mortem inspection procedures, and the testing of all livestock that are potentially suspect at the USDA’s expert laboratory in Ames, IA. 

Like the Secretary, Mucklow stated that she too will be eating roast beef on Christmas Day without fear or concern. 

Summary of U.S.D.A. Briefing

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced this afternoon that tests at the USDA laboratory at Ames, Iowa found that a cow, slaughtered at Vern’s Meats, Moses Lake, WA on December 9 was presumptive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Sample tissue is being flown by a military plane to Weybridge, United Kingdom for final confirmation, which is expected to take 3 to 5 days. Tissues that may be infective for BSE are not permitted to enter the human food supply, and are assigned to inedible rendering materials at the slaughter facility. The muscle tissue was processed by three other official Washington establishments - Mid-Way Meats, Inter-State Meat Co. and Willamette Meat.

The Secretary stressed that there is minimal risk to human health in such a finding, the first in the United States, that USDA has a crisis response plan and has already initiated it. The farm of origin has already been quarantined, and USDA officials are gathering additional information. She has conferred with Secretary Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security and this finding is not terrorist-related. 

The Secretary said that the Department will have daily briefings to update the situation, and encouraged interested persons to go to the USDA’s website for update information. She reminded participants that the disease is not contagious, and that USDA’s targeted sampling plan, which tested 20,526 animals in 2003, triple the number tested in 2002, comes from the most likely population, non-ambulatory, as was this particular animal.

The Secretary encouraged people to remain confident in the safety of the beef supply, and said she would be eating beef for her holiday dinner on Thursday. Under Secretary Elsa Murano confirmed that the central nervous system tissue from this animal that might have been infective, the brain, spinal cord and distal ileum, did not enter the food supply.

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