To: NMA Members

Fr: Rosemary Mucklow
NMA Executive Director

Re: BSE Update

December 28, 2003

USDA officials held an update briefing this morning at 11 a.m. EST. Members can listen to tomorrow’s update, Monday, December 29, scheduled for 2 pm EST, at 1-866-487-3226. Also, a full transcript is available at Following are notes from today’s briefing: 

  • There is no new information. Officials are working on the other 73 animals believed to have come to the U.S. with the index cow. All parties in the chain of custody, the owners of the index herd, the holding point where she spent about two months on arrival in the U.S., the dealer who arranged her entry, and the Canadian authorities who are working with the farm in Alberta from where she came, are cooperating. The reason for the hold on two facilities in Washington (the dairy and the holding point) is to facilitate the investigation by limiting the movement of animals. USDA officials re-stated that this chain of custody, which leads to an Alberta farm, is the most likely but they are still considering all options in the investigation and only DNA tests will provide the ultimate confirmation. Further, a sample of bull semen is available for testing.
  • FSIS officials are working with the entities that slaughtered, boned, ground and distributed the meat, including the meat from the index cow that was slaughtered on December 12. Only one 2nd class Recall has been announced, and FSIS officials are working with state and local authorities. Most of the meat was distributed in WA and OR. Some is known to have gone to Nevada and California, and subsequent investigation shows that some may be in Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Guam. Again, the Recall was announced in an abundance of caution – BSE is not known to be carried in the muscle tissue. The SRMs, which are considered infected material, were removed, under standard procedures, at the slaughter facility.
  • The ear tag was a Stover metal, silver-colored, single use tag of the kind that is often used in Canada. Investigators are looking for companion tags. As to legislative or regulatory changes that this finding may cause, APHIS officials said that changes would be made in partnership with the industry. At this time, records suggest the cow was 6 ˝ years old, but confirmation is still pending.
  • In terms of how much infective tissue it takes to cause infection, FDA officials said that ˝ gram of infected brain was fed to calves and caused infection. Its infectivity is reduced when these materials are processed – reducing it by a multiple of 10. It would require a higher quantity to infect humans. 
  • Officials reconfirmed that there is a virtual zero risk to humans who consume the meat from an infected animal, and the recall is taken in an abundance of caution. 
  • USDA banned the import of live ruminants and products from countries with BSE in 1989, and banned the feeding of ruminant material to ruminants in 1997. These requirements are harmonized with Canada.
  • The U.S. delegation (David Hegwood, Dr. Charles Lambert, and staff from APHIS, FAS and FSIS) will meet with the Japanese Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare on Monday morning in Tokyo. They will make the case that the safeguards and firewalls in place in the U.S. provide considerable protection for U.S. beef. Knowing that there is a very small prevalence and a very low risk, and that beef is safe to eat from even countries with a high prevalence/high risk, the delegation will argue that the trade restriction is not science based and is without foundation, especially when the beef comes from a country with a very good program. They will argue that the trade restriction should be lifted.
  • APHIS officials said that they were not aware of studies showing that the infective agent could be in meat/blood. They said that there is a huge amount of science that shows that meat tissue is not at risk. The OIE, an international animal health body, is recognized by the WTO and its manual has a chapter on BSE – to establish standards and to allow trade. That Chapter, written by international experts and adopted by 164 countries, acknowledges that meat can be safely traded. OIE is looking at changes for consideration at its meeting in May 2004, and adoption in May 2005. The proposed changes will be available in January 2004 for review.
  • It is premature at this time to link the strain to the UK strain. The U.S. risk comes from animals imported into the U.S. from the UK many years ago.

    Officials on the briefing today were: Dr. Ron DeHaven, Chief Veterinary Officer, APHIS/USDA; Dr. Kenneth Petersen, FSIS and Dr. Stephen Sundlof, FDA.


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