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USDA searches for origin of Alabama cow with BSE
Kentucky Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed that the second of two bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) confirmatory tests conducted on an Alabama cow were returned positive.

The announcement came March 15 after the APHIS’ National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, conducted the immunohistochemistry (IHC) test. A Western blot confirmatory test had been conducted and, under APHIS protocol, if either one of those tests returns a positive result the animal is considered positive for BSE.

The animal had been on the premise for less than a year and was initially examined by a local, private veterinarian, who euthanized the animal and collected a sample, which was submitted for testing. The animal was buried on the farm at that time.

The USDA has emphasized that the animal had not made its way into the food chain and efforts to locate its origin were being made.

BSE is not a contagious disease that spreads animal to animal, or animal to human but through cattle feed containing meat and bone meal derived from BSE-infected cattle. The United States has banned the use of such protein supplements in cattle feed since 1997.

As part of USDA’s BSE enhanced surveillance program, more than 650,000 samples have been tested since June 2004. While the APHIS has noted the likelihood of finding additional cases of BSE, to date, only two have tested positive for the disease for a total of three cases of BSE in the United States.

The program was designed as a one-time, effort to provide a look at the U.S. cattle population, in order to determine the prevalence of BSE in this country.

APHIS Chief Veterinary Medical Officer John Clifford said in a statement, “I want to emphasize that human and animal health in the United States are protected by a system of interlocking safeguards and that we remain very confident in the safety of U.S. beef. The most important of these safeguards is the ban on specified risk materials from the food supply and the Food and Drug Administration’s feed ban. And by any measure, the incidence of BSE in this country is extremely low.”

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) and the USDA now are focusing on the trace-back process with 13 locations and 32 movements of cattle being examined with 27 of those being substantially completed.

“I was very concerned to find out that the samples that tested positive for BSE were from a cow in Alabama, but this is exactly the reason that we emphasize the importance of BSE surveillance,” said ADAI Commissioner Ron Sparks.

“The cow was tested as part of the enhanced BSE surveillance program that has been in place in Alabama. Even cows brought in from other states get tested for BSE before they would have a chance to be sold as food. I cannot stress enough how important this testing is to protect consumers. Also, having the Premises ID program in place in Alabama means we are able to trace the origin of a diseased animal. The cattle producers of Alabama understand the need for these precautions as well and we will continue to work together closely to protect consumers.”

The U.S. beef industry has suffered a series of setbacks in the last couple of years causing countries like Japan to impose bans on beef from this country.

The latest incident coming just last January when a shipment of U.S. beef that posed no food safety risk - but did not meet the specifications of the U.S. export agreement with Japan - was shipped to the island nation.

It was only in December of 2005 that a year-long Japanese ban had been lifted due to another BSE finding.

Last week, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced that a USDA technical team would meet with Japanese government officials this week to answer questions and press for the reopening of the Japanese market to U.S. beef.

“The United States is eager to provide any additional clarification Japan may request so we can resume beef exports to Japan as quickly as possible,” said Johanns. “I believe our report is thorough and actions address the unique circumstances surrounding this ineligible shipment. Now my hope is that we can take the next steps toward resumption of normal trade.”