International Panel’s BSE Report Misses the Mark
Recommendations lack science base, ignore U.S. safeguards already in place
Washington, D.C.
February 4, 2004

An international panel report on measures relating to the incidence of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the U.S. fails to appropriately recognize the fact that the U.S. and Canada have taken steps since 1989 to reduce the risk of BSE. These actions led the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis to conclude the U.S. system is robust against the amplification and spread of BSE.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) says the report issued today by a subcommittee of the USDA Secretary's Foreign Animal and Poultry Disease Advisory Committee reaches inappropriate conclusions and offers recommendations based on the premise that the risk level in the U.S. for this disease is the same as the risk level in European countries.

The subcommittee is made up of three representatives from Europe, one from New Zealand and one from the U.S.

"Clearly, some members of the panel do not have a full understanding of the systems we have in place in the U.S," says Dr. Gary Weber, NCBA executive director of regulatory affairs and an animal health scientist. “Many of the panel’s recommendations are based on the European model and overlook scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates the long-standing firewalls in place in our country have been effective."

The Harvard Center has conducted a comprehensive multi-year assessment of the risk of BSE in the U.S., and has concluded "measures taken by the U.S. government and industry make the U.S. robust against the spread of BSE to animals or humans. "It is imperative that the panel’s recommendations be evaluated in comparison to the Harvard model," says Weber.

Also noteworthy, NCBA says, are the aggressive efforts in place in the U.S. beef production system. "It is important to remember that all the measures to protect both animal health and public health put in place beginning in 1989 – and further expanded in 2003 – ensure the U.S. beef supply remains the safest in the world," says Weber.

A key recommendation with which the cattle industry agrees is the need for an effective animal identification system to aid in disease monitoring and traceback. "We’ve always supported the development of an animal ID system and we have been actively working with the government and other industry organizations for years on a plan," says Weber. "We feel confident the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) will meet these goals."

NCBA says the panel’s work is an important step in the process following the BSE case identified in December, but the panel must consider the proactive efforts already in place before calling for additional measures that won’t help reduce risk any further.

"We take issue with this report because it implies the risk of BSE has not been mitigated in this country," says Weber. "That is simply not the case."

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