Transcript of Tele-News Conference regarding the inconclusive BSE Rapid Test Result with Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. John Clifford Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Washington D.C. | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0084.06
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Transcript of Tele-News Conference regarding The inconclusive BSE Rapid Test Result With Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. John Clifford, March 13, 2006

MR. JIM ROGERS: Hi, everybody. This is Jim Rogers with the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Legislative and Public Affairs Office. I appreciate you all calling in today. We have here the USDA chief veterinarian, Dr. John Clifford. He is also known as the deputy administrator for the Veterinary Services Program under APHIS. And at this time I will turn the call over to him.

DR. CLIFFORD: Thanks, Jim. Thanks, everybody for joining us this afternoon. We received a positive result on a Western blot confirmatory test conducted at our USDA laboratories in Ames, Iowa, on samples from an animal that had tested inconclusive on a rapid screening test performed on Friday, March 10.

The samples were taken of a nonambulatory animal on a farm in Alabama. A local private veterinarian euthanized and sampled the animal and sent the samples for further testing, which was conducted at one of our contract diagnostic laboratories at the University of Georgia.

The animal was buried on the farm and did not enter the animal or human food chains. We are now working with Alabama Animal Health officials to conduct an epidemiological investigation to gather any further information we can on the herd of origin of this animal.

The animal had only resided on the most recent farm in Alabama for less than a year. We will be working to locate animals from this cow's first cohort and any offspring. We will also work with Food and Drug Administration officials to determine any feed history that may be relevant to the investigation.

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

Under USDA's testing protocols, surveillance samples are sent to contract laboratories for screening tests. If the sample is found to be inconclusive on a screening test, it is then shipped to our National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for an additional rapid test and two confirmatory tests-- the immunohistochemistry test which is conducted by APHIS scientists, and the Western blot test which is conducted by scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

USDA considers an animal positive if either of these two confirmatory tests returns a positive result. In this instance the inconclusive result from the contract lab in Georgia was confirmed through a second rapid test at NVSL. Now the Western blot test has returned a positive result, and that is sufficient for us to confirm this animal to be positive for BSE, which is why we are making the announcement today.

The IHC tests are still pending, and we will release those results as soon as they are available, which we expect to be later this week.

I want to emphasize that human and animal health in the United States are protected by a system of interlocking safeguards and we remain very confident in the safety of U.S. beef.

Again, this animal did not enter the human food or animal feed chains while epidemiological work to determine the animal's precise age is just getting underway and is ongoing, the attending veterinarian has indicated that based on dentition it was an older animal, quite possibly upwards of 10 years of age.

This would indicate that this animal would have been born prior to the implementation of the Food and Drug Administration's 1997 feed ban.

Older animals are more likely to have been exposed to contaminated feed circulating before FDA's '97 ban on ruminant-to-ruminant feed practices which scientific research has indicated is the most likely route for BSE transmission.

By any measure the incidence of BSE in this country is extremely low. Our enhanced surveillance program was designed as a one-time snapshot to provide information about the level of prevalence of BSE in the United States. Since June 2004 all sectors of the cattle industry have cooperated in this program by submitting samples from more than 640,000 animals from the highest risk populations and more than 20,000 from clinically normal older animals as part of our enhanced BSE surveillance program.

To date, including the animal in today's announcement, only two of these highest risk animals have tested positive for the disease, as part of our enhanced surveillance program.

As we approach the conclusion of our enhanced surveillance program, let me offer a few thoughts regarding surveillance going forward. I can assure you that we will continue to base our maintenance surveillance testing on international guidelines. Though the nature and extent of maintenance surveillance has not yet been finalized, the incidence of BSE in this country remains extremely low and our interlocking safeguards are working to protect both human and animal health, and we remain very confident in the safety of U.S. beef.

As we move forward with the epidemiological investigation that's been initiated today in this case of BSE, we will continue to be very transparent in sharing information with the public and with our trading partners around the world.

With that, I'm happy to take any questions that you may have.

OPERATOR: At this time we are ready to begin the question and answer session. If you'd like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touch-tone phone. You will be announced prior to asking your question and to withdraw your question you will press *2.

Our first question comes from Beth Grohem (sp). Your line is open.

REPORTER: Yes. Hi, there. I'm with the Canadian Press. Thanks for taking my question. You said you were investigating the herd of origin. I'm wondering if there's any idea yet whether the animal was born in Canada or the United States.

DR. CLIFFORD: Thank you for the question. At this time we don't, we'd not be able to indicate whether it's of U.S. origin or Canadian origin. As I'd indicated, the animal was really at this particular location for less than a year, and it will require us to complete our investigation before we can determine the actual farm of origin or birth origin.

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Catherine Hunter, your line is open.

REPORTER: Hi, there. I was wondering if you could tell me how you expect this result to impact your ongoing negotiations to open up the Japanese import beef market.

DR. CLIFFORD: We would not anticipate that this would impact our ongoing negotiations. As I'd indicated our product is safe, we've got a number of interlocking safeguards, and Japan themselves has had 20-plus cases of BSE. And we believe their product is safe with regards to the safeguards they've in place in that country. We have a ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban to protect animal health in this country as well.

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Peter Shinn, your line's open.

REPORTER: Yes, thank you. Peter Shinn with the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. My question is simply, at what point do you think that you will know more relative to specifics about this animal's life? Do you have any kind of timeline?

DR CLIFFORD: We'll work as quickly as we can. I really can't give you a specific timeline, but I can tell you that we're very transparent with our information, and as soon as we have the completion of that and more information we can share we will certainly do that.

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Philip Brasher, your line's open.

REPORTER: Yes. Can you say anything about the breed of this animal? Do you have any idea how many farms it was on? And what's the state of the record keeping associated with this animal?

DR. CLIFFORD: I missed the second part of that, that the breed itself -- it's a beef breed. It's actually a Santa Gertrubis, has been identified. As far as the record keeping, I can't really speak to any of the record keeping at this point in time other than the fact that we know this animal was at this location for less than a year.

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Pete Heisey, your line's open.

REPORTER: Hi. How about the effect on trade with South Korea? They've announced since this turned positive that they were likely to suspend their reopening, which is scheduled for a month from now.

DR. CLIFFORD: Again we would hope this wouldn't affect any trade. We have a number of safeguards based upon the estimation of age and based on dentition from the private veterinarian this animal should have been born before the feed ban went into place, and we have effective safeguards in the U.S. in the ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban as well as SRM removal.

So we would not anticipate that it would affect trade and as well, we would request other countries and our trading partners as well as ourselves to move to the international standards and OIE guidelines that are based upon safe trade in commodities.

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Jeff Wilson, your line's open.

REPORTER: Yes. I'd like to know whether or not it's standard practice to bury any of these dead animals on the farm at all times or are they supposed to be incinerated, or is there some other means of disposal?

DR. CLIFFORD: Actually with regards to disposal methods, there are several different possibilities and options. But with regards to burying on-farm, I think that's probably specific to state issue and possibly EPA guidelines as well with regards to particular states. So I couldn't speak to the state itself.

But with regards to disposal methods we use for animals, we would use incineration, burial in lime type of burial sites as well as alkaline tissue digestion. So there's more than one method that would be available.

MR. ROGERS: Before we go to the next question, Operator, I'd like to ask everybody please state your organization that you represent before asking your question. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Chris Clayton, your line's open.

REPORTER: Hi. I'm with DTN in Omaha, Nebraska. I wanted to just clarify the animal had died on the farm, and that was this animal already had been buried or was in the process of being buried? And have you quarantined the farm that it was on? And what kind of herd was that, how big size, that sort of thing?

DR. CLIFFORD: This particular animal, as I'd indicated, was at this farm for less than a year. Obviously they did not get, would not have been born on that farm; so therefore would not likely to have other animals of interest. So therefore it's not necessary to quarantine the farm. But whether or not it is quarantined or not I'd have to check with state officials to see if they have put a quarantine in place.

With regard to the status of the animal itself, the animal was nonambulatory. I believe the animal was treated by the veterinarian initially and the veterinarian returned on the following day and actually euthanized the animal and took the sample.

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Daniel Goldstein, your line's open.

REPORTER: Yeah, hi, Dr. Clifford. Dan Goldstein with Bloomberg. You said that this animal is going to go through the IHC test or the brain tissue's going to go through the IHC test. Are there any plans to send the brain tissue to Weybridge, England, for a second confirmatory IHC test?

DR. CLIFFORD: No, there's not. We don't feel that would be necessary, and as I've indicated we use both now-- the Western blot as well as the IHC. And either one of those findings to be positive, we consider that to be a positive result. So we don't feel the need in sending the sample to Weybridge.

MR. ROGERS: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Elizabeth Weiss with USA Today. Your line's open.

REPORTER: Hey. It's Beth Weiss with USA Today. So a 10-year-old. Can you spell the name of that breed, or at least say it slowly?

DR. CLIFFORD: Santa Gertrubis. I may have get the exact spelling. It's been awhile since I've spelled it. I think it's, the first name's Santa, which is S-A-N-T-A. And the last one is G-E-R-T-R-U-B-I-S.

MR. ROGERS: All right. Spelling questions. I guess that means we're going to probably wrap it up in about two more questions, Operator. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Wyatt Andrews with CBS News. Your line's open.

REPORTER: Thanks. It's Wyatt Andrews from CBS. Doctor, could you go in a little deeper about how you were going to look for the offspring of this cow? I mean obviously it's a cow; she's 10 years old. She clearly must have had quite a bit of offspring. First of all, do you have the records to track all the young calves that this cow had over her lifespan, number one? And number two, would those cows be presumptively contagious, and how do you look for BSE in them?

DR. CLIFFORD: Let me start by talking about records. Basically we'll have to do an epi investigation as I indicated. This particular cow was on this farm for less than a year, so therefore we will have to do an epi investigation, which will require us to try to trace her back to her farm of origin.

Once we've determined the farm of origin and then through that we would determine what other locations she may have been as well. We would determine through that then if we're able to determine that we will determine animals of interest. We would go back to the farm of origin and talk to that particular owner about what records they have or may have relative to time of birth and her first year of life on that farm.

The offspring issue, let me point out while we would still trace her two last offspring if we're able to identify those animals, it's very highly unlikely and extremely rare that either of those animals would even have the potential of having BSE while it is part currently of the OIE code, there's little science that supports that that disease is transmitted from the dam to the offspring while in the womb. So basically there's very little -- or we'll have to complete our epi investigation before we can give you more details relative to that.

MR. ROGERS: Last and final question, please, Operator?

OPERATOR: Elizabeth Lee with Atlanta Journal Constitution, your line's open.

REPORTER: Hi. It's Elizabeth Lee with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I wanted to ask about the conclusion of the expanded surveillance program, if you could talk a little bit about when that is supposed to end and what the proposals are, how many fewer animals might be tested going forward?

DR. CLIFFORD: I think, we indicated in our statement that I'd given earlier you know as we talk about the conclusion of our enhanced surveillance program I wanted to reiterate and state that program was to take a snapshot in time to give us an estimate of prevalence.

Having said that, we will be continuing to do a level of surveillance for a long period of time within the U.S. So we will make sure that those standards meet international standards. We'll be working with scientists and others and having input in that, but at this point in time the nature and extent of that surveillance program has not yet been finalized. And when we do that we'll certainly share that publicly.

MR. ROGERS: I'd like to thank everybody very much for attending the call today. Just a few points of clarification. There's been some confusion out there about the number of inconclusives that have been found under the enhanced surveillance program. That number is four.

All of that testing data is available on our website at WWW.APHIS.USDA.GOV.

There's a picture of a cow down at the bottom, click on that and it will tell you everything you need to know.

And before we go, Dr. Clifford has one final statement.

DR. CLIFFORD: I also want to clarify for you there may be some confusion relative to the number of cases found within the U.S. for BSE. The Washington state cow, which was a Canadian origin animal, was actually found prior to our enhanced surveillance effort. So that's why when we talk about two cases, that's during the enhanced surveillance program.

MR. ROGERS: Then I guess just because I always have to have the last word, the testing numbers are now over 650,000, the new numbers are posted today.

Thank you everybody. There will be a transcript posted on our website as soon as we can make one available. This concludes our call.