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From: TSS (
Subject: Few US BSE tests from packers
Date: October 21, 2004 at 8:15 am PST

Few US BSE tests from packers

Packer samples minority of BSE tests

October 18, 2004

Dead-stock companies, renderers and officials with several USDA-certified laboratories all indicated that a majority of cattle being tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), under USDAs four-month-old surveillance plan are from on-farm supplies, not cattle being sent through packing houses.

Spokespeople with USDAs Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said they thought between 65-75 percent of all BSE tests conducted since June 1 have been on downer or dead cattle collected from producers farms or ranches.

However, Andrea McNally, media spokesperson with USDAs Washington, DC, offices said that there has been no specific breakdown on the type of cattle tested under the new surveillance program or where samples are coming from.

In mid-July Secretary (Ann) Veneman answered that question saying almost 70 percent of tests were conducted on cattle from on-farm supplies. However, we have not yet extrapolated all that data out yet, but are planning to release the specifics of cattle type and location of collection sometime in the future, McNally said.

She added that her peers indicate a similar distribution pattern has been in place since that announcement.

However, other sources, including technicians with some USDA-approved testing facilities, indicated the amount of on-farm samples being tested could reach more than 80 percent, particularly in the Midwest and Southeast.

In several instances, state veterinary services offices have agreed with dead-stock companies and renderers to go out to those facilities, gather the heads from most at risk animals and then test for BSE. Those facilities then agree to withhold the carcasses from further rendering and product manufacturing until testing is completed.

According to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), 10 states have developed programs that have coordinated direct contact between state and USDA veterinarian service officials and on-farm supplies of cattle for BSE testing. The 10 states were not mentioned by name, but several sources indicated that seven of the states were those with USDA-certified laboratoriesCalifornia, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin, New York and Georgia. Another five statesFlorida, Minnesota, Kansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvaniahave labs approved to test for the disease, but USDA hasnt allowed them to become part of the surveillance program, which has been in place since June 1.

In addition to the seven state labs, USDAs National Veterinary Service Laboratory, Ames, IA, is also conducting both preliminary and confirmatory BSE testing.

Several dead-stock companies, mostly from Wisconsin, Washington and New York, told WLJ last week that they have seen a great amount of cooperation from farmers and ranchers and that they are seeing BSE testing technicians at their facilities at least twice per week.

The interest in getting past this situation has been very high from producers we service, said Jake Jacobsen, spokesman with Karem, Inc., a dead-stock company from Marshall, WI. We are seeing lab technicians several times a week to pick up the heads of animals for testing. Wisconsin has always had a very strong dead-stock industry, and with our numbers of older dairy cows we have fit right in with getting animal testing for this potentially-debilitating disease.

When asked about beef cow samples collected for testing, several dead-stock industry sources said that they are picking up twice as many beef cows as they were prior to last Decembers finding of BSE in Washington-state. In addition, most of those facilities said 50-70 percent of those animals are being tested for the disease.

We have had several beef producers plead with us to test their cattle, so they can get export markets opened back up to their product, said a spokeswoman for a northern New York rendering plant. Their thoughts are the quicker they show there is no BSE in U.S. cattle, the quicker they will be able to move beef overseas and see a recovery in cattle prices. We are benefitting right now, but we hope producers can reap the benefits of this program sooner rather than later.

Some sources said they were a little concerned that their operations were accounting for a majority of the testing burden, and that more animals destined for the food chain should be part of the current BSE program.

APHIS sources said, however, that the imbalance between on-farm samples

and packing house samples was not alarming because the most at-risk animals are those that are picked up by renderers or dead-stock haulers.

Packing houses are under strict orders that any cattle that are down or show any sign of disorientation or central nervous system disorders are to have samples collected and tested for the disease before they move on through the production chain, an APHIS BSE testing official said, on the condition of anonymity. We are extremely confident the most at-risk animals are getting tested for the disease. A majority of maximum risk animals are those that arent even able to be picked up and shipped to packers, and that is what we are focusing on.

APHIS officials declined comment when asked if current testing levels included at least 10 percent minimum risk animals. They did say, however, that by the end of the surveillance program an appropriate amount of animals considered minimum risk would be tested for the disease.

Through October 10, USDAs stepped up surveillance program had tested 79,736 cattle for BSE with only two preliminary inconclusive test results and without any confirmed infections of the disease. For the week ending October 10, just over 6,000 cattle were tested, which was the largest weekly total since the program started up June 1.

A minimum of 220,000 head will be tested for the disease with there being a chance of 450,000 head being tested if any positive tests are confirmed before the minimum head requirement is met.

 Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor


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