REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY By Ron DeHaven, Administrator Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) U.S. Department of Agriculture BSE Roundtable The University of Minnesota St. Paul, Minnesota
June 9, 2005
USDA has long said that our approach to BSE needs to be based on science and a real understanding of the disease's risk. Over the last 20 years, we've accumulated a significant body of scientific evidence on BSE, both through research studies and experience. So I'd like to take this opportunity to review what we actually know about this disease. Above all, we know that the spread of BSE can be effectively controlled. Why do I say that?
First, let me remind everyone that although BSE is considered a disease of significance, it is not contagious and does not spread through animal contact. It is instead a slow acting disease, with a long incubation period, that is transmitted through the consumption of feed contaminated with the infectious agent.
Second, experience in both the United Kingdom and in Europe has demonstrated that certain control measures are extremely effective in safeguarding against BSE. The epidemiological curve you can see in your handout clearly shows the effect of the feed ban on the number of BSE cases in the United Kingdom. Feed restrictions on ruminant protein prevent the transmission of the disease between animals, and the removal of risk materials from the human food supply prevents the transmission to people.
How do we know that feed restrictions are effective? The continued decline in the number of cases of BSE worldwide demonstrates that these measures are working.
Based on our scientific knowledge of the disease, we have taken several key steps - some of which have been in place for years -- to safeguard the health of U.S. livestock and our food supply from BSE. And we are fortunate that Canada shares our commitment and overall approach to dealing with this disease by taking comparable and effective measures consistent with ours. This is especially important given that historically the North American cattle industry has been highly integrated.
In 1997, long before the first native case in North America, both Canada and the United States implemented feed regulations banning the feeding of ruminant protein with some exceptions, back to other ruminants. This critical action has helped prevent an outbreak similar to those seen in countries where feed bans were instituted only after BSE cases were identified. Expert risk analyses have repeatedly shown that if BSE were introduced into the U.S. herd, the feed ban-even if not perfectly enforced-would prevent the disease from becoming established and spreading.
Additional safeguards in place in both the United States and Canada include comparable and effective import restrictions, slaughter restrictions, and rendering processes, and the removal of specified risk materials from the human food supply. Given these safeguards, and the fact that BSE can be transmitted only under very specific conditions and not through casual contact between animals, the risk of BSE transmission in the United States and in Canada remains extremely low.
So we've reviewed what we know about the science of the disease and the means by which it can be controlled. And this brings us to the question of how successfully we are executing those control measures.
The answer to that question is obtained primarily through BSE surveillance. Both Canada and the United States have in place successful BSE surveillance programs, targeting the population where the disease is most likely to be detected and sampling similar percentages of the adult cattle population. This surveillance enables us to monitor the continued effectiveness of our respective BSE safeguards. And the results of the surveillance indicate that our controls are working. During the past year, USDA has sampled and tested more than 375,360 high-risk animals for BSE, and to date, no new cases have been found.
Additionally, in January, after Canada discovered two additional cases of BSE, one born shortly after the feed ban was put in place, USDA sent technical teams to Canada to conduct both an epidemiological review of Canadian BSE cases, and an examination of Canada's compliance with its 1997 ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban.
USDA's feed ban review found that Canada has a robust inspection program, that overall compliance with the feed ban is good, and that the feed ban is effectively reducing the risk of BSE transmission in the Canadian cattle population. The review team's findings verify the information previously cited in USDA's risk analysis and support the conclusion that Canada's feed ban is effective. The full feed ban report is available on USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Web site.
USDA's epidemiological review of the Canadian BSE cases was released in April. The USDA technical team found that Canada's epidemiological efforts were not only appropriate but exceeded levels recommended by an international team of BSE experts.
The science of this disease supports the conclusion that U.S. animal health and the human food supply can be protected while continuing trade with BSE-affected countries as long as appropriate protections and mitigations are taken. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has never advocated that countries totally prohibit all imports of meat and meat products, or even live cattle, from other countries reporting detections of BSE. Both OIE's guidelines, and the science of the disease, support the safety of trade in live animals and beef, provided that exporting countries have taken precautions against the disease and that appropriate safeguards-such as feed bans and SRM removal-are in place.
As many of you know, the OIE, the World Organization for Animal Health, recently adopted changes to the International Animal Health Code Chapter on BSE. The new OIE guidelines further reflect the current science and recognize the low risk associated with BSE when effective risk mitigation measures are followed.
Guideline updates include the adoption of a streamlined, 3-level country classification system and the acceptance of a revised "non-risk" product list. This list now includes boneless beef ("de-boned skeletal muscle") that meets certain criteria, which can be traded regardless of a country's BSE status.
The import criteria USDA has specified for BSE minimal risk regions are consistent with the OIE approach. These requirements include, among others: sufficient import restrictions to minimize BSE exposure; surveillance for BSE at levels that meet or exceed international guidelines; a ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban with effective enforcement; and appropriate epidemiological investigations, risk assessment, and risk mitigation measures. Canada meets all of these criteria.
This is why we are confident that the requirements of the minimal-risk region rule, in combination with the overlapping animal and public health measures already in place in the United States and Canada, provide the utmost protection to both U.S. consumers and livestock. USDA is fully confident that both American and Canadian cattle are equally protected from BSE, and that the safe entry of Canadian cattle and bovine products is fully supported by the available science.
I look forward to our discussions this morning and trust that what we do here today will advance the cause of science-based BSE policies and will in turn help facilitate the safe trade of North American beef, both here and abroad.