Published on: May 1, 2006MSNBC
reports that US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said last week that he believes that there are, at maximum, a total of between four and seven cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, in the entire United States. Johanns said this estimate is based on new testing data compiled by the Us Department of Agriculture (USDA), and that once it is reviewed by an independent panel, a reduction in BSE testing will almost certainly be the result.
“The data shows the prevalence of BSE in the United States is extraordinarily low,” Johanns told reporters on a conference call. “In other words, we have an extremely healthy herd of cattle in our country.”
While there have been just three cases of BSE identified in the US, MSNBC
notes that "the brain-wasting disorder infected more than 180,000 cows and was blamed for more than 150 human deaths during a European outbreak that peaked in 1993."
reports that to USDA is cooking the numbers to some degree - the first case in the US, "a Canadian cow found in Washington state, is not included in the testing analysis. Including that animal would have revised the estimate of infected cows upward to five to 11 nationwide."
USDA announced in late March that it planned to scale back its BSE testing, but then changed its institutional mind because Johanns suddenly realized that he wouldn’t be able to persuade a BSE-paranoid Japan to reopen its borders to US beef if he was simultaneously reducing the US surveillance effort. Japan, which tests every cow, for BSE, currently has a ban on US beef imports.
According to the new MSNBC
report, Johanns now says "there is little justification for keeping up the higher testing levels, which rose to about 1,000 samples daily, from about 55 samples daily, after mad cow turned up in the U.S. The current level is around 1 percent of the 35 million cattle slaughtered last year in the U.S.
"Johanns pointed out the testing is not supposed to protect food from mad cow disease; testing is supposed to show how prevalent the disease is."
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal
reports that in a speech to the World Meat Congress last week, Gary Johnson, McDonald's senior director for worldwide supply chain management, called for mandatory cattle traceback programs that would assure consumers about the safety of the meat they consume.
"Consumer trust in the safety of the food they eat across the entire food chain including the proteins is the single most critical factor for our industry," he said.
Calling the expense of a traceback program "essential" and a "down-payment on consumer trust," Johnson said, "Any company that can't build and maintain their public trust doesn't have to worry about any other trend in the food industry - that company will simply not be in business any more."
notes that the US beef "industry is lumbering toward adopting programs that can trace back retail beef to cattle on farms, but not without some industry opposition - and considerable intransigence in some quarters." And, it reports that the willingness of other countries – notable Australia – to invest in traceback programs could and should put competitive pressure on the US to do the same thing.