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PERSPECTIVE ESSENTIAL IN EVALUATING INSPECTION RECORDS, AMI SAYS

Monday, August 15, 2005
 

Attribute Statement to AMI Foundation President James H. Hodges

“When considering the public health risk posed by BSE, it is essential to maintain perspective about this animal disease. BSE’s notable impact on humans is the ability to generate emotion and overreaction to an extremely low risk.

Experts say that the public health risk of BSE in the U.S. is near zero. The U.S. surveillance program has proven with a very high degree of statistical confidence that there is an extremely low level of BSE infectivity in the U.S.; only two case of BSE have ever been diagnosed since we began testing in 1990. If the disease does not exist in an animal, then no part of the animal can pose a risk to humans.

Despite this miniscule level of risk in the live animal population, the U.S. also requires extraordinary measures in plants to provide additional assurances that the beef supply is completely safe. Thousands of USDA inspectors oversee these measures, which include diverting any potentially infected materials, from human food. In addition, these USDA inspectors file "non-compliance reports" or NRs when they identify problems that need to be addressed. In turn, a plant files a written response documenting the corrective actions that have been implemented. This level of continuous inspection oversight is unparalleled in any other industry.

In response to requests for information, USDA today released materials on 1,036 non-compliance reports filed over a 17 month period from January 2004 to May 2005, which related to in-plant removal of certain parts that could pose a risk in the highly unlikely event that an animal had BSE. Some groups will no doubt attempt to use this information as evidence of possible operational problems and even a food safety concern, when nothing is further from the truth.

During the 17-month period, more than 46 million cattle were processed, so 1,036 NRs represent a non-compliance rate below one-tenth of one percent. The truth is that these very low numbers of NRs demonstrate a remarkable level of compliance with federal regulations exceeding 99.9 percent. The miniscule fraction of instances in which federal inspectors filed these reports --many of which involve paperwork mistakes rather than processing problems -- should not be cause for concern. Moreover, immediate corrective actions were taken and documented. The chance of these limited instances posing any risk to the public is so remote that it is like being struck by lightning and winning the lottery on the same day.


A comparison between the U.S. situation and what occurred in the United Kingdom provides additional perspective. In the United Kingdom, more than 180,000 cattle tested positive for BSE, but experts estimate that millions of undiagnosed cases occurred. The first BSE case was diagnosed in 1986, but it was not until 1997 that a link was made between the cattle disease and human illness. During that time period, the people in the UK were routinely exposed to the BSE infectious agent. Despite massive exposure among the human population, 150 cases of vCJD have been diagnosed. The number of vCJD cases has steadily declined after public health measures were implemented. Only two cases of vCJD have been reported in the U.K. thus far this year. Certainly, any case of vCJD is tragic, but the number of human cases versus the number of animal cases indicates that this disease is not easily transmitted to people. More importantly, no case of vCJD has been attributed to consumption of U.S. produced beef products.

Consumers, media and policymakers need to look at just how full the glass is, in this case. With inspection records indicating a better than 99.9 percent compliance rate with rules designed to protect humans from BSE, this is a success story that should instill confidence in American beef consumers. It should also prompt skepticism about efforts to paint a picture of a glass half empty, for that picture is simply not supported by the facts.”


For more information contact:
David Ray
Vice President, Public Affairs
202-587-4243
dray@meatinstitute.org
Janet Riley
Sr. Vice President, Public Affairs
202-587-4245
jriley@meatinstitute.org

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