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USDA Unveils New Meat Inspection Rules

posted on January 2, 2004

The potential reach of any Mad Cow fallout could be significant, as the U.S. cattle industry generates almost $200-billion in economic activity each year. It's little wonder then that both the beef industry and the government moved so quickly to quell fears of a larger outbreak.

The U.S., for instance, dispatched special envoys to its biggest overseas beef customers, like Japan and South Korea. And in some parts of the country, cattle producers arrived in supermarkets to personally try and reassure consumers.

But the strongest effort to boost consumer confidence came from the Bush administration, which announced sweeping reforms in livestock processing rules.

USDA Unveils New Meat Inspection Rules On Tuesday, one week after the first reported case of Mad Cow disease in the United States was announced, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman unveiled new guidelines for cattle slaughter. The changes are being driven by what USDA is calling "an abundance of caution." The changes include:

-- An immediate ban on meat from so called, "downer" cattle. Of the 36 million head slaughtered annually, USDA estimates nearly 200,000 are considered to be these non-ambulatory animals.

-- USDA announced it would speed development of a nationwide animal tracking database. The high tech system would provide data on an animal's age, breeding, and medical history. Currently, inspectors rely on what has been called a "hodge-podge of data" maintained by producers, breeders and processors.

-- And, any animal testing positive for BSE will not be allowed into the food supply until test results are confirmed.

Currently, USDA tests more than 20,000 animals annually for BSE, but it doesn't necessarily hold the livestock or meat products until confirmation is received. The Washington state Holstein which tested positive for BSE was sent to processors almost two weeks before test results showed that it was infected with mad cow disease.

The new restrictions apply to cattle 30 months of age and older.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, Chief Veterinary Officer, USDA: "The age of the animal is especially important in that it is a likely explanation as to how this animal would have become infected. She would have been born before feed bans were implemented in North America as the feed bans in the U.S. and Canada both went into effect in August of 1997. And, as I mentioned, records would now indicate that this animal was born in April of 1997.

TIGHTEN (1:38)

Obviously the more time goes by the fewer animals that are alive that would have been exposed to feed before this feed ban went into place. And so as time goes by the risk of more animals becoming infected decreases."

USDA has repeatedly stressed its confidence in the safety of the U.S. beef supply. Officials cite a rigorous surveillance program targeting livestock that would be high-risk for BSE.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, Chief Veterinary Officer, USDA: "Our surveillance testing has been based on a statistically valid sample that would tell us that if the infection existed in the United States, even at a low prevalence of one in a million animals that we should find the disease. And so it's on that basis that we feel comfortable when we say the worst case scenario is the disease exists in the United States at a very low prevalence and... (1:15:27) EDIT

By any stretch of the imagination the U.S. can not be considered to be at high risk for BSE, especially given our high level of surveillance over the recent past and the fact that only one case of the disease has been found here. And further, that a single case appears not to have been even born in the United States at this point. (TIGHTEN) 1:07:39:03

Tags: agriculture animals beef cattle diseases food safety government livestock Mad Cow meat news USDA