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Tuesday, December 23, 2003

(Attribute Statement to AMI President J. Patrick Boyle)

ARLINGTON, Va., December 23, 2003 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) aggressive animal disease surveillance system worked as it should to detect a single presumptive case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the United States. This case poses no risk to consumers because as USDA Secretary Ann Veneman stated, the BSE infectious agent in not found in beef muscle, such as steaks, roasts and ground beef. This is an animal disease challenge -- not a food safety problem.

U.S. animal health standards are among the highest in the world. Steps dating back to 1989 have been put in place to prevent other cattle from being infected. By law, all livestock are inspected before processing to ensure that they are healthy. This system helps ensure the safety of the U.S. meat supply.

According to a risk assessment done in 2001 by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, if a BSE case were detected in the United States, it would be rapidly contained, which is what we fully expect in this case. Government officials are acting swiftly to assess the situation and to take all appropriate actions consistent with international standards.

In contrast to the mid-1990s, when BSE was first discovered in significant numbers in Europe, much is known today about how to prevent, detect and contain the disease. USDA is well prepared to quickly respond using the best available science.

There are two crucial facts that media and consumers need to consider in response to this news:

· BSE is an animal disease that is NOT contagious as a result of ordinary cattle-to-cattle contact.
· BSE is caused by proteins called prions that are found in neurological tissues, such as brains and spinal cords -- not in beef cuts, such as steak, roasts and ground beef.
· When BSE was first identified in cattle in the United Kingdom, little was known about how the disease could be transmitted. People were unaware that consuming central nervous system tissues, such as brains, could pose a risk, which is why most of cases of vCJD were diagnosed in the UK in the 1990s.
· Brains and spinal cords are not commonly consumed in the United States, nor are they added to other meat products.

Consumers are encouraged to continue to purchase and consume beef with confidence, knowing that federal officials and the meat industry are responding aggressively and appropriately and that U.S. beef remains extremely safe.

Media and consumers and with questions are urged to visit www.usda.gov www.meatinstitute.org or www.bseinfo.org

For more information contact:
Dan Murphy
Vice President, Public Affairs
Janet Riley
Sr. VP, Public Affairs

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