Is the U.S. a different case than Europe?
Jeffrey A. Nelson
April 6, 2001
group of scientists last year assessed the risk of BSE in the US
to be the same as the risk of Austria. Austria recently announced
that it "wants to know if it has BSE in its cows," and
has voluntarily adopted testing standards set by the European Commission,
and is testing a large segment of their cows. The US, however, does
not currently wish to look further and see whether or not BSE exists
Steering Committee of the European Union conducted an elaborate
risk assessment for a wide variety of countries, the results of
which were published in July of 2000.
independent experts who applied innovative, complex methodology
to data that were voluntarily supplied by the responsible country
authorities, the project is a series of scientific reports on the
relative BSE risks of various countries in the world.
are of special interest: the report on Austria and the report on
the U.S.A. (see report listings at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sc/ssc/outcome_en.html
analysis examined data from each country and assessed:
Challenges" relating to BSE - what feed was used, did imports
from known BSE-countries take place, how much and over what periods;
Challenges" - how possible was multiplication of BSE in that
country? Did they ban feeding cows to cows, and if so when? How
well did a given country respond and place deactivation procedures
BSE risk classes were established by the researchers. The classes
are based on calculations of the likelihood of the presence of one
or more cattle clinically or pre-clinically infected with BSE in
the country. The risk categories and their definitions were as follows:
but not excluded
but not confirmed or confirmed, at a lower level
at a higher level
countries were class III or IV. At the time of publication, Germany
was in Risk Class III: "Likely but not confirmed or confirmed,
at a lower level."
in risk class II: "unlikely but not excluded." http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/Fs/SC/ssc/out115_en.pdf
The US was in
the same category as Austria, based on an analysis of data provided
to researchers by the US government. The report on the US concludes,
"it is unlikely but cannot be excluded that domestic cattle
are (clinically or pre-clinically) infected with the BSE-agent."
to note that the Risk Class II rating for the U.S. was based on
information provided to researchers by the USDA. That data included
noting measures had been set in place in 1997 in the U.S. to end
the practice of feeding cow protein back to cows.
doing risk assessment did not check to see whether the data they
received was accurate. A GAO study done in January 2001 revealed
that nearly 70% of U.S. feed mills at that time were not following
the 1997 rules, and 20% were not even aware of the rules. Additionally,
in hearings before the U.S. Senate on April 5, 2001, there was testimony
that the FDA does not have the manpower to enforce the laws even
in plants that are aware of them.
risk assessment researchers were told that the U.S. had measures
in place to end practices known to spread mad cow, the reality is
those measures weren't widely implemented or enforced, but largely
Thus, it is
very possible the researchers who assessed the U.S. BSE risk as
Class II in July of 2000 might not have done so if they knew that
the reported U.S. measures had not actually been widely implemented.