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United States is Well Positioned to Prevent BSE, Meat Scientist Says

Wednesday, April 4, 2001

The U.S. is well positioned to continue to prevent bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in U.S. cattle herds, according to American Meat Institute Foundation President Jim Hodges. Policymakers must recognize this fact in setting policy and reject the hysteria that has swept Europe, he said.

Hodges made his statement in testimony today before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism. He underscored the fact that the U.S. is in the advantageous position of preventing a disease that has not occurred here, while Europe must seek to control a disease that has already swept its cattle population.

“The British problem - now shared by 12 other European nations - has provided strong incentive for the U.S. government and U.S. beef industry to take aggressive actions to prevent this devastating animal disease in U.S. herds,” Hodges said. “In fact, we took action so early that some people now seem to question why we aren't announcing major new efforts today. The answer: we took swift, science-based actions early on that have protected our livestock and given us the coveted distinction of being a BSE-free nation.”

Hodges described the U.S. approach to BSE prevention as a "triple firewall" strategy. Because BSE is not present in U.S. herds, the first critical firewall in protecting U.S. cattle involves protecting U.S. borders. As early as 1989, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) banned the import of cattle and beef from countries with BSE.

The second critical firewall involves careful surveillance. Veterinarians are present at every U.S. meat packing plant and check cattle for signs of any disease - including BSE. No animal can be processed for meat without inspection. Additionally, USDA routinely conducts laboratory tests for BSE. For a country in which BSE is not endemic - has never been detected in the native cattle population - the U.S. has one of the most statistically sound and comprehensive surveillance programs in the world. Of the roughly 12,000 animals tested for BSE by the U.S. government, none have been positive.

Hodges said the third critical firewall involves controlling what cattle are fed. Evidence indicates that BSE may have been spread in the U.K. and Europe by contaminated feed. Even though the U.S. has no BSE in cattle, the feeding of any protein derived from ruminant animals (cow, sheep, goat or deer) to cattle has been prohibited in this country.

According to Hodges, there is a growing trend within the beef industry to require certification from producers that cattle have met all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements. AMI has provided its members with model certification language and the Institute understands it is beginning to be widely used, he said.

“Taken together, these efforts provide the best possible assurance that U.S. cattle will remain BSE-free and that U.S. consumers will not be exposed to any related health risks,” Hodges said.

“While our media have begun to mirror British tabloid coverage of BSE, our cattle herds are, and will remain, very different from those in the U.K. and Europe. Our policies must reflect these differences and be supported by the best available science lest we head down the slippery slope of creating our own hysteria.”

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory and public relations services, conducts scientific and economic research, offers marketing and technical assistance and sponsors education programs.

The AMI Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to research, education and information that benefit the meat and poultry industry. Originally created in 1944, the AMI Foundation today solicits grants from government, industry and other organizations to fund a broad range of food safety, worker safety, nutrition and consumer information projects.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs

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