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AMI Statement On Harvard University's Assessment of the Risk of BSE

Friday, November 30, 2001

Embargoed until 1:30 p.m., November 30, 2001
Contact: Janet Riley, 703/841-2400
Cell phone: 703/801-2238
Email: jriley@meatinstitute.org

Statement Of the American Meat Institute On Harvard University’s Assessment of the Risk of BSE in U.S. Livestock, November 30, 2001

(Attribute Statement to AMI President J. Patrick Boyle)

Harvard University’s risk assessment of BSE in U.S. livestock herds confirms earlier assessments: the risk of BSE in U.S. cattle is extremely low. Therefore, human health risks are even lower.

As many BSE experts have said, America's BSE-free status is not “luck.” Rather it is the result of our nation’s “triple firewall strategy” that includes import controls that block importation of meat and live animals from nations with BSE; feed controls that prevent the introduction of the disease into herds; and a surveillance program that is statistically designed to detect BSE in cattle with a high degree of certainty were it present. Our surveillance program already exceeds international standards and will be further bolstered by USDA’s announcement of expanded surveillance.

BSE is not the only disease that the U.S. has managed to prevent. The U.S. is free of many animal diseases that plague other nations - testaments to the success of government-industry efforts to find and prevent devastating diseases.

As many react to today’s risk assessment release, some people may question why the U.S. has not taken the same drastic measures as the U.K. and Europe. The fact is, the U.S. situation is quite different from Europe and our policies should not be identical to Europe’s. We are seeking to prevent a disease, while our European neighbors are in the unfortunate position of trying to prevent further spread of one that already exists - two very different positions that warrant different responses.

Britain also was the first nation to diagnose BSE and therefore had no history or scientific research on which to base policies. As a result, there were many missteps early on that contributed to the spread of the disease among animals and to humans. We have learned from those tragic mistakes and have protected ourselves against them.

We intend to review carefully USDA’s policy options paper and will support any new initiatives that are appropriate based on scientific evidence. It is important to remember that because there is no evidence of BSE in the U.S., any product derived from American cattle is safe to eat.

Specifically, brains and spinal cords are known to be among the most infectious parts of animals with BSE. While the British routinely consumed cattle brains in the early part of the BSE crisis before they realized that this posed a health risk, Americans do not commonly consume cattle brains or spinal cords, nor are they used as ingredients in meat products. Both are routinely removed from cattle during the slaughter process. Some limited groups of people knowingly choose to consume brains and spinal cords as labeled, stand-alone items.

USDA’s announcement that it will propose a rule to prohibit the use of air-injected pneumatic stunners mirrors the meat industry’s efforts more than four years ago. When the science showed that air-injected pneumatic stunners could spread brain tissue, we called upon our members to stop manufacturing and using this equipment. In a 2001 survey of AMI members, no member reported using these stunners. In addition, stunner manufacturers ceased making them in 1997.

The U.S. meat industry is convinced that the steps we have taken to date have served the U.S. well and we welcome this risk assessment as an opportunity to ensure that our existing firewalls are as strong as they can be.

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.


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

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