On December 30, 2003, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced additional safeguards to bolster the U.S. protection systems against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, and further protect public health. The policies will further strengthen protections against BSE by removing certain animals and specified risk material and tissues from the human food chain; requiring additional process controls for establishments using advanced meat recovery (AMR); holding meat from cattle that have been targeted for BSE surveillance testing until the test has confirmed negative; and prohibiting the air-injection stunning of cattle. The Secretary also announced that USDA will begin immediate implementation of a verifiable system of national animal identification. The development of such a system has been underway for more than a year and a half to achieve uniformity, consistency and efficiency across this national system.
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USDA continues to work with the Canadian officials to verify traceback of the index animal. Records indicate that the animal was approximately 6-1/2 years old at the time of slaughter. USDA is working with Canada to conduct DNA testing to verify that the correct animal has been identified. The age of the animal is significant. She would have been born before feed bans were implemented in North America in August 1997. The feed bans prohibit the inclusion of ruminant protein in feed intended for other ruminants to eat. That practice has been identified time and time again as the primary means by which BSE spread.
On the morning of December 25, the BSE world reference lab in Weybridge, England, confirmed USDA's December 23 preliminary diagnosis of BSE in a single nonambulatory dairy cow that had been slaughtered on December 9 at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Washington State.
At the time of USDA's preliminary diagnosis on December 23, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a Class II recall for the facility's entire day's production. The recall was classified as Class II due to the extremely low likelihood that the beef being recalled contains the infectious agent that causes BSE.
The herd the affected animal came from is under a State quarantine in Washington. While USDA has not made any decisions on the dispositions of this herd, any cattle that die on the farm will be tested for BSE.
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has determined the following additional information through its traceback investigation:
* The health certificate that indicates 82 cattle (including the positive cow) were cleared for shipment to the United States. USDA is now in the process of verifying the actual number that entered the U.S. and the location of each animal. Initial information from Canada suggested only 74 of the 82 cattle on the health certificate were shipped to the United States. However, since USDA cannot rule out the possibility that the other eight also came across the border, USDA is looking at import/export records, as well as on-farm records, for all remaining 81 cattle.
* The positive cow had three calves while in the United States. The first was stillborn. The second, a yearling heifer, is under a hold order on the index farm. The third, a bull calf is in a group of calves at another location, which is also under a hold order. The hold orders are not because BSE is contagious or is in any way spread directly from animal to animal. They are to ensure that USDA maintains the location of all animals of consequence or otherwise relevant to the investigation.
USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) will also take the following actions:
* Downer Animals. Effectively immediately, USDA will ban all downer cattle from the human food chain. USDA will continue its BSE surveillance program.
* Product Holding. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors will no longer mark cattle tested under the BSE surveillance program as “inspected and passed” until confirmation is received that the animals have, in fact, tested negative for BSE. This new policy will be in the form of an interpretive rule that will be published in the Federal Register.
To prevent the entry into commerce of meat and meat food products that are adulterated, FSIS inspection program personnel perform ante- and post-mortem inspection of cattle that are slaughtered in the United States. As part of the ante-mortem inspection, FSIS personnel look for signs of disease, including signs of central nervous system impairment. Animals showing signs of systemic disease, including those exhibiting signs of neurologic impairment, are condemned. Meat from all condemned animals has never been permitted for use as human food.
* Specified Risk Material. Effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, USDA will enhance its regulations by declaring as specified risk materials skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia, eyes, vertebral column, spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of cattle over 30 months of age and the small intestine of cattle of all ages, thus prohibiting their use in the human food supply. Tonsils from all cattle are already considered inedible and therefore do not enter the food supply. These enhancements are consistent with the actions taken by Canada after the discovery of BSE in May.
In an interim final rule, FSIS will require federally inspected establishments that slaughter cattle to develop, implement, and maintain procedures to remove, segregate, and dispose of these specified risk materials so that they cannot possibly enter the food chain. Plants must also make that information readily available for review by FSIS inspection personnel. FSIS has also developed procedures for verifying the approximate age of cattle that are slaughtered in official establishments. State inspected plants must have equivalent procedures in place.
* Advanced Meat Recovery. AMR is an industrial technology that removes muscle tissue from the bone of beef carcasses under high pressure without incorporating bone material when operated properly. AMR product can be labeled as “meat.” FSIS has previously had regulations in place that prohibit spinal cord from being included in products labeled as “meat.” The regulation, effective upon publication in the Federal Register, expands that prohibition to include dorsal root ganglia, clusters of nerve cells connected to the spinal cord along the vertebrae column, in addition to spinal cord tissue. Like spinal cord, the dorsal root ganglia may also contain BSE infectivity if the animal is infected. In addition, because the vertebral column and skull in cattle 30 months and older will be considered inedible, it cannot be used for AMR.
In March 2003, FSIS began a routine regulatory sampling program for beef produced from AMR systems to ensure that spinal cord tissue is not present in this product. In a new interim final rule announced today, establishments have to ensure process control through verification testing to ensure that neither spinal cord nor dorsal root ganglia is present in the product.
* Air-Injection Stunning. To ensure that portions of the brain are not dislocated into the tissues of the carcass as a consequence of humanely stunning cattle during the slaughter process, FSIS is issuing a regulation to ban the practice of air-injection stunning.
* Mechanically Separated Meat. USDA will prohibit use of mechanically separated meat in human food.
Consumers with other food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline. The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
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