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 United States, says Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
“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.
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 10 times higher than the OIE recommended level, according to USDA.
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 seven 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 one case per million adult cattle.
The analysis further revealed that the most likely number of cases is between four and seven 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.
The enhanced surveillance program has been funded using emergency CCC funds totaling $157.8 million since June 2004. Ongoing surveillance will cost approximate $17 million per year using funds appropriated by Congress. President Bush’s fiscal 2007 budget request includes this level of funding.
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.
An outline of the ongoing BSE surveillance plan is available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/hot_issues/bse.shtml.