(US) US says its mad cow rate less than one in 1 million
US says its mad cow rate less than one in 1 million
28 Apr 2006 20:02:03 GMT
By Sophie Walker and Christopher Doering
WASHINGTON, April 28 (Reuters) - Mad cow disease in the United States
hits fewer than one in 1 million adult cattle, Agriculture Secretary
Mike Johanns said on Friday, unveiling an analysis of the U.S. testing
program aimed at reassuring trading partners.
"USDA experts conclude ... that the prevalence of BSE in the United
States is less than one case per 1 million adult cattle. In other
words, we have an extraordinarily healthy heard of cattle in our
country," Johanns told a news conference.
"We're dealing with an incredibly low prevalence in the United States
and science tells us that prevalence is likely to decline," he said.
The U.S. Agriculture Department estimated that between four and seven
cattle in the United States have the disease and said the total should
drop as the prevalence level falls.
The statistics were based on an overall U.S. adult cattle population
of 42 million animals.
In giving details of the draft analysis of USDA's enhanced testing
program for mad cow disease, implemented in June 2004, Johanns said he
hoped to reassure beef trading partners.
Many foreign buyers, including No. 1 trading partner Japan, shut their
markets to U.S. beef after the discovery in December 2003 of the first
U.S. case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
U.S. beef exports this year are estimated at 1.1 billion lbs., down 56
percent from 2003.
The Bush administration has been lobbying hard to reopen markets in
Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, among others.
"I am confident this will be positively received not only by Japan but
other trading partners around the world," Johanns said.
Johanns added that he would meet Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi
Nakagawa in Geneva next week to discuss restarting U.S. beef imports.
Japan lifted a two-year ban on U.S. beef imports last December. But it
shut down its markets again a month later over renewed fears about mad
cow disease, after its inspectors discovered banned spinal column
cattle parts in a veal shipment from New York.
USDA has since said it would double-check any shipments headed to
Japan and conduct more surprise inspections of U.S. plants.
Asked how the negotiations to restart trade were going, Johanns
responded: "I am as impatient as the next person and want this done
now, but I'm confident that we're headed in the right direction."
USDA says its testing program focuses on older and ailing cattle,
which are considered at the highest risk for mad cow disease. The
department has maintained that it is not a public health measure.
Friday's analysis showed USDA has looked at 730,000 samples collected
since 1999, including 690,000 tests on cattle gathered under an
enhanced program put in place in June 2004.
USDA officials repeatedly have hinted they plan to scale back the
testing rate, but so far have been reluctant to announce the future of
"Certainly ... 40,000 (per year) would appear to be in the ballpark,
but again we've not arrived at that number," said Ron DeHaven, head of
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. He said a change in
the program would be reviewed to ensure it meets scientific and
Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a letter to Johanns
that beef packers should be allowed to test the cattle they slaughter
for mad cow disease, in order to make American beef more marketable
USDA has opposed private testing of cattle
Other Republican lawmakers and industry representatives cheered
Johanns' announcement, saying it showed protective measures were working.
"Today's announcement from Secretary Johanns once again reaffirms what
we have long known -- the U.S. cattle population has an extremely low
incidence of BSE and the risk-mitigation measures we have put in place
are working," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, head of the Senate
James Hodges, president of the American Meat Institute, said: "This is
very good news for the U.S. beef industry. Clearly our multiple
firewalls can work to protect our herds and the public health."
But there was caution from other quarters. Some have questioned
whether the enhanced program accurately determines the risk of mad
cow, because most samples were submitted voluntarily and some U.S.
regions tested more than others.
"We don't think the data is good enough in here to argue that they
should drastically reduce the sampling," said Michael Hansen, a
spokesman for Consumers Union. "They need to keep it at the sample
level, or increase it and target it far more accurately" to at-risk
animals, he said.