Transcript of Audio Webcast from U.S. Agriculture Officials Provide Update On BSE Epidemiological Investigation on June 29, 2005 | USDA Newsroom
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News Transcript

Release No. 0235.05
Contact:
Jim Rogers (202) 670-4755

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TRANSCRIPT OF TELE-NEWS CONFERENCE WITH DR. JOHN CLIFFORD, CHIEF VETERINARY OFFICER, ANIMAL AND PLANT HEALTH INSPECTION SERVICE, DR. STEPHEN SUNDLOF, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VETERINARY MEDICINE, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION AND DR. BOB HILLMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TEXAS ANIMAL HEALTH COMMISSION IN WASHINGTON, DC ON JUNE 29, 2005

OPERATOR: Good afternoon, and good evening, and thank you all for holding. I'd like to remind all parties that your lines have been placed on a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer session. If anyone needs assistance, press "*" "0." And I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. Jim Rogers. Thank you, sir, you may begin.

MR. ROGERS: Hi, everyone. Thank you for calling, and thanks for your patience. We're starting a little late here tonight. This is Jim Rogers with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

We have for you tonight Dr. John Clifford -- he's our chief veterinarian here at APHIS -- and he's going to provide you with some updated information on our epidemiological investigation into the second case of BSE in the United States. We also have on the line Dr. Bob Hillman -- he's the executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission; and Dr. Steve Sundlof -- he is the director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Sciences.

So I'm going to turn the call over to Dr. Clifford. You're going to hear some statements made, and then we're going to go to Q and As, at which time we would ask that you identify yourself and your affiliation when you ask your question.

Dr. Clifford?

DR. CLIFFORD: " Thanks, Jim. And thanks everyone for joining us this evening.

"I'd like to begin with a statement and, as Jim had indicated, then we'll have maybe an additional statement and Q and As.

"DNA test results have confirmed that we have identified the source herd of the animal determined last week to be positive for BSE. Based on information we have received from the owner, the cow was born and raised in a herd in Texas and was approximately 12 years old. It was sent to a 3D/4D pet food plant in Texas and was selected for sampling on arrival.

"The source herd is now under a hold order as we identify animals of interest within the herd. Animals of interest would include any other animals that were born the same year as this animal, as well as any born the same year as this animal, as well as any born the year before and the year after. If the age of the animal cannot be pinpointed, then we may expand our inquiry to include all animals in this herd before the feed ban went into place in 1997. We are also interested in any of this animal's offspring that were born within the last 2 years.

"Experience worldwide has shown us that it is highly unusual to find BSE in more than one animal in a herd or in an affected animal's offspring. Nevertheless, all animals of interest will be tested for BSE.

"We are also working with the Food and Drug Administration in an effort to determine the feed history in this herd. Given the animal's age, we believe it was most likely infected by consuming feed prior to the implementation of the ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban in 1997.

"I emphasize that this animal did not enter the human food chain. The plant at which this animal was sampled is a 3D/4D pet food plant that does not handle animals for human consumption and, in this case, did not use the animal in the production of pet food. The remains were incinerated.

"The testing and traceback efforts may yield further information as to how this animal became infected. The safety of our food supply is not in question. I am very confident that our interlocking safeguards are effective, and this case is evidence of that. USDA bans nonambulatory cattle from the food supply. USDA bans animal parts that could carry BSE from the food supply. USDA bans slaughter techniques that could introduce BSE into the food supply. These safeguards ensure that American beef is among the safest in the world."

MR. ROGERS: "All right. At this time I was going to ask Dr. Bob Hillman if he had any statement he'd like to make."

DR. HILLMAN: " Thank you, Jim, just a very brief statement. While it does not give us pleasure to have a BSE-positive cow identified in the United States, and even more so in the state of Texas, we are dedicated to working with our animal health partners from USDA, and also with the food safety folks from FDA, in completing our response to this event, and we will work to get it completed as quickly as possible."

MR. ROGERS: " Thank you, Dr. Hillman. We do appreciate your cooperation.

A this point, operator, I'd like to open the floor to questions. And if everybody would please state their name and their affiliation, we can begin."

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, if anyone has a question, press "*" "1" on your touchtone phone. If you'd like to withdraw your question, press "*" "2." Once again, if anyone has a question, please press "*" "1" at this time.

Thank you. Our first question is from Andy Dworkin, and please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. I'm with the Oregonian in Portland, Oregon. I was wondering a little bit more about what was done to trace. You mentioned some DNA testing. What exactly were you looking for with DNA, or what did that show?

And also, I know back in November, when you first announced the earliest tests on this animal, you mentioned that APHIS had already started the tracebacks. So I'm wondering why it seems to have taken a long time it seems in this case to confirm the herd?

DR. CLIFFORD: "Thanks, Andy. Basically the way this animal was traced -- actually, from initially we felt that we had the correct herd; we wanted to identify that appropriately with DNA. We did DNA analysis on the sample itself, and we went back to the herd and pulled blood samples on the animals from the herd to see if there was a direct relationship with animals in the herd to this animal. And, in fact, with the DNA testing that we have done thus far, we have identified two animals that are definitely related to the animal that was incinerated and determined to be BSE -- or to have BSE. Those animals would have been either an offspring or a dam to this animal.

"And as far as the information with regards to the trace, initially in November, when we reported this as an inconclusive, we began the 'epi' [epidemiological] and the tracing of this animal and herd. Once that sample was identified as being negative on our IHC tests, we stopped that trace. We recently began that trace again based upon the positive results from Weybridge and actually -- and then my determination -- had determined pretty quickly -- and verified that herd."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please?

OPERATOR: Peter Shinn you may ask your question. And please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, and good evening. This is Peter Shinn with the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. Until all of the animals in question, herd mates, are identified, will the herd in question be quarantined? That's the first question. And then, secondly, why wait to say that this animal was from Texas until this period of time when that information was almost virtually publicly available.

DR. CLIFFORD: I didn't hear the last part of the question.

QUESTION: "Well, we'll start with the first one again, if I don't -- the first one is more important to me, which is the issue of quarantine. Will the herd in question be quarantined until all traceback efforts have been completed?"

DR. CLIFFORD: " The state of Texas, yes, has applied a hold order on this herd. As far as the second part of the question, I didn't understand."

QUESTION: I'm just asking why did you wait to confirm that this animal in question was from Texas, when it's been published that it was from Texas for some time. It seems like you're trying to clear up confusion and minimize questions and market disruption. And it seems like disclosing all information that you have, like for example that this animal was slaughtered at a facility in Texas might be useful in calling some of that market disruption.

DR. CLIFFORD: " Basically, if you go back to the original announcement we made last Friday, we indicated we need to verify this herd -- and we've done that through DNA analysis. We did not want to release information on the whereabouts of the herd until we had verified it."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

DR. HILLMAN: "Dr. Clifford, if I may add one comment to that. It's also important to note that our cooperative lab in Texas tests animals from more than one state. So it is important to verify, as Dr. Clifford has indicated."

OPERATOR: Thank you. Sally Schuff you may ask your question, and please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Thank you. This is Sally Schuff from FeedsStuffs. My question is for Dr. Clifford. Dr. Clifford, in the Friday announcement you said that the molecular protein banding pattern on this animal was more similar to French cases than the U.K. My question is: Does that indicate that this case is more similar to the bovine amloid spongiform encephalopathy than diagnosed in some few cases in Europe?

DR. CLIFFORD: "I don't think we can basically make that determination at this point. I think what we need to say is that from standpoints and regulatory purposes, this is a case of BSE. The molecular weight pattern on this animal was reported out as being a higher molecular weight, which is very similar to a few cases they found in France, and I think that's really at this point all we can say."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Steve Kay, your line is open. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Steve Kay of Cattle Buyers Weekly. Dr. Clifford, can you pinpoint or give us more details about the farm or ranch the cow came from? Did the cow remain on the farm its entire life? And you talked about some of the cohorts. My files show me that at least 205 animals were euthanized in the Washington State case. Do you have any notion at this point as to how many animals will be euthanized in this case?

DR. CLIFFORD: "No, we actually do not. The animal was, according to the owner, was born on this farm and raised on this farm its entire life -- owned by this owner. And so we really can't determine how many animals at this point in time we would be looking at as animals of interest. We would need to complete our epidemiology on that. But we would keep you updated relative to that information."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Scott Kilman your line is open. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Wall Street Journal. I'll follow up on Steve Kay's question and ask another one. One is: Can you identify -- can you tell us what town in Texas this ranch is located, the birth herd, is located?

Number two: Has the owner explained to you folks what made the animal a downer, or whether it was injured somehow or if it looked like it was suffering from some kind of sickness?

DR. CLIFFORD: " Basically the information that we have thus far is that we know that the animal was in poor condition at that time. So the -- any other specific information as far as the condition we'll be wanting to verify with the owner. The animal was reported to us in our initial investigation by the plant as being a downer at that facility. The -- was there another question there, sir?"

OPERATOR: I've already moved to the next question, sir.

DR. CLIFFORD: "As far as the location of the herd, we're not releasing that information. With regards to our programs, we feel that that's protected information, and we don't typically release that -- for this case, or for any of our programs for that matter."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Steve Vetter your line is open. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes, Steve Vetter, Western Livestock Journal. Is this a registered herd, purebred herd, commercial herd? And then, also, when you were talking about the mislabeling of the sample from a breed standpoint, is this a cross-bred kind of cow, or is this actually of a certain breed makeup -- one specific breed?

DR. CLIFFORD: "As far as whether this particular owner has purebred animals or just all cross-breds, I'm not sure at this point in time. That's something that we would have to determine through our investigation. I can tell you that this particular animal was identified by the owner as a brahma-cross."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Chris Clayton, you may ask your question. And please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: This is Chris Clayton, with the Omaha World Herald. I was curious -- I guess this might be for Mr. Sundlof -- if -- are you concentrating on looking at feed for this animal prior to 1997, or are you also looking at the possibility that this animal may have received some contaminated feed after that? Can you say whether this animal was mostly on a grassfed operation? I mean, did it graze most of its life, or can you give us a little more on the feeding background that you know on this animal?

DR. SUNDLOF: "Okay, this is Steve Sundlof with the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine. We don't know the answer to that. We're just learning of the origin of the animal.

What we will be doing is we'll be working very closely with the USDA. They will be doing the epidemiology work, investigation, trying to trace back the animal and any herds that the animal may have come from or cohorts may have gone to. And in all those cases we will be doing a traceback of the feed to try and find out what the history of the feed was. We will be looking at the compliance records for all of the firms that may have processed meat and bonemeal from cohorts of this animal, to determine whether or not they have been in compliance with the feed regulation since it's been in effect in 1997. Obviously before that time there was no feed regulation, so there is no compliance records for those firms before that. But we will do our best to trace back the records as far back as we can possibly go for any animals that USDA identifies in their epidemiological study."

DR. CLIFFORD: "And if I may, I'd just like to add one little point to that as well. And if you look at this disease worldwide, we know -- and from the research and information -- that the animals definitely are most likely to get this disease by eating contaminated feed at a very young age."

MR. ROGERS: Next question please.

OPERATOR: Shakar Vidantim (ph), your line is open. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: The Washington Post. Could you please spell the name of the pet store in detail and also confirm whether it was also in Texas? And, secondly, could you tell us why this animal was not used for pet food?

DR. CLIFFORD: "Basically let me begin by stating this. You know, at USDA, at APHIS here, we're really reluctant to identify the location of this facility. And let me explain why before we go on with the final answer with that. This facility, and other facilities, across the entire U.S., are helping us with this enhanced BSE surveillance program. And in reality this particular location did exactly what they needed to do with this facility and the animals and in holding these animals in an appropriate manner and having all these animals incinerated based upon our knowledge and guidance in this situation. And really from a traceback standpoint, they're out of the loop here. They have no additional value from a standpoint of the traceability and follow-up with this herd. So we really don't feel that this type of information has any additional value to the follow-up and epidemiology of this case.

However, to be transparent with you, what we're willing to say is this was a pet food facility. The pet food facility was located in Waco, Texas. But we certainly hope by releasing this information it doesn't affect those who are doing a good job and assisting us with this program nationally, because we want them to continue to do that. So we appreciate very much -- we recognize their efforts in this."

OPERATOR: Thank you. Jim Massey, you may ask your question. And please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes, Jim Massey, from the Country Today Newspaper in Wisconsin. Why is the location of the animal protected information if information on the Washington State herd wasn't in December of '03?

DR. CLIFFORD: "We didn't release the information on the owner in '03. I think that was determined by others."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Ted Oberg, you may ask your question. And please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Hi, gentlemen, I'm from KTRK-Television in Houston. I guess two questions. One, can you tell us when this DNA information was confirmed? And, second, maybe for Dr. Hillman, how concerned are you this will put sort of a "Scarlet Letter" on Texas beef?

DR. CLIFFORD: "First off, the actuals -- I got the final formal report at approximately 5:00 today -- it was somewhere in that neighborhood -- this evening on the final DNA analysis on those two animals. And we actually have more animals still being tested, but as far as the initial analysis goes, it enabled us on this particular group of blood samples -- it enabled us to identify this herd. And I know Dr. Hillman wants to respond to your second question, but just let me say that this should not put any taint on any Texas beef, or for that matter U.S. beef. Our products U.S.-wide are safe. This disease is one that needs to be put in proper perspective. It's one case out of 388,000-plus samples that are found to be negative for this disease. The prevalence we know based on that would be extremely low in this country. And this is a surveillance program to estimate prevalence to determine that our safeguards are working, and they are working. And those safeguards have to do with the specified risk material removal to protect human health, and the feed bans to protect animal health."

And with that, Bob, if you'd like to add anything?"

DR. HILLMAN: " John, I think you've answered it very well. I don't have anything to add. Thank you."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Sandy Doughten (ph), your line is open. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: I'm from the Seattle Times. Can you tell us why this animal was selected for testing and why the carcass was incinerated?

DR. CLIFFORD: "This animal was presented at 3D/4D facility, and at that time actually there were five animals presented that fit the categories for us. This animal was listed by the facility as a downer. And the animal was incinerated because of the inconclusive results. And based on those inconclusive results, we not only incinerated this animal; we incinerated the entire group of all five animals."

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Joe Palca, your line is open. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: I'm from National Public Radio. You said that you were going to be looking at animals born within a year or two, or at least one year to begin with, of the animal in question. And I'm wondering if you have any idea how many animals you're talking about there.

And the other question is for someone who's not familiar with cattle practices all that much, is it uncommon to find a lot of 12-year-old animals in a herd of cattle?

DR. CLIFFORD: "As far as our plans, I can't give you an exact number until we actually get into the investigation itself, and we'll be glad to provide you all that type of information and details when we have it.

"As far as the age, you know, it's probably less common to find that old an animal in the dairy industry. But within the beef industry you can certainly find older, aged animals within the industry, as long as those animals are still productive."

OPERATOR: Jerry Hagstrom, you may ask your question. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes, this is Jerry Hagstrom from Congress Daily. I'd also like to ask about the statement last Friday that the brain pattern was that of cows in France that had mad cow disease. I'm wondering if this would indicate that the type of feed that this cow would have had would probably have been different from the kind of feed that had been used in Canada? Or do you have any other explanation as to why this cow in Texas would have a different brain pattern than the one up in Washington State?

DR. CLIFFORD: " I think we really couldn't respond to that, and I wouldn't want to speculate whether it has any relationship with feed or the source of that feed. I think that that's something -- a question that would have to be answered, or attempted answered later on, after there would be more understanding with regards to the different types of BSE and the way it expresses itself. So that's something that's going to have to be answered with time and research."

MR. ROGERS: Operator, at this time we have just enough time for two more questions please.

OPERATOR: Karen Jacobs, your line is open. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Karen Jacobs, Dallas Morning News. Can you give us any idea of the size of the herd? And also in terms of the breeding, how recently was this cow, animal, still breeding? Do we know?

DR. CLIFFORD: "Based on the size of the herd, I would probably need to get those results or actual numbers. You know, I really don't want to release that until I have good numbers to go with, and so we are waiting on that information. I think also we would be interested in the last two years of birth and I think we need to confirm some information there with the owner with regards to the most recent offspring. So that's additional information we'll be glad to release when we have that nailed down on the epi."

MR. ROGERS: Final question, please, operator.

OPERATOR: Yes, our final question comes from Don Wall. Your line is open. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I'm Don Wall from WFAA-TV in Dallas, and I wanted to know if other animals from that herd in Texas have been or will be euthanized. And I wanted to know if, because of this information, if there will be any bans on exports of Texas cattle to either other states or nations?

DR. CLIFFORD: "As we go through the epidemiology and we find what we call animals of interest that we have identified -- that would be animals that were born in that herd in the same year that this particular animal was born, or within one year before to one year after, to the last two offspring this particular cow had -- within the last two years, I should say, specifically -- those animals, if found or located, those animals would be indicated as -- or identified as animals of interest and would be tested.

"As far as bans, I would certainly hope that no state in the United States would ban beef products from the state of Texas. It wouldn't make sense, scientifically with the safeguards in place. And I think as everybody well knows, USDA is working very hard to reopen markets, and as well as trying to maintain those that are still currently open."

MR. ROGERS: All right, thank you. I'd like to thank everyone for being on the call tonight. Before you all go, I'd just like to give you everyone's name and title again. From the USDA we have Dr. John Clifford -- that's C-L-I-F-F-O-R-D -- he's the chief veterinarian with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. We have Dr. Steve Sundlof -- S-U-N-D-L-O-F. He is the director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, as opposed to "Sciences," as I said earlier. And we also have with us Dr. Bob Hillman -- H-I-L-L-M-A-N, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission. Thank you, gentlemen, for participating in the call. And I'd like to thank the reporters for attending. Please feel free to call us at APHIS if you have further questions in the future. Operator, this concludes the call.

OPERATOR: Thank you. You may disconnect at this time.