QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS HALLMARK/WESTLAND MEAT PACKING CO.
MARCH 6, 2008
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Control Measures
Q. How does USDA monitor the U.S. cattle population for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)?
A. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) continues to conduct BSE surveillance activities throughout the United States. The target number for testing is 40,000 animals each year. This level of testing exceeds the testing number recommended by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) for BSE surveillance.
USDA's ongoing BSE surveillance program is not for the purposes of determining food safety. Rather, it is an animal health surveillance program designed to assess any change in the BSE status of U.S. cattle, and identify any rise in BSE prevalence in this country.
This ongoing BSE surveillance program allows USDA not only to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the U.S. cattle population, but also provide assurances to consumers and our international trading partners that the interlocking system of safeguards in place to prevent BSE are working. USDA will continually analyze the ongoing surveillance strategy and make adjustments as needed to ensure that the most robust surveillance program that provides the foundation for market confidence in the health of U.S. cattle is maintained.
Q. Is U.S. meat safe to eat?
A. Yes. What truly protects human and animal health is the system of interlocking safeguards, including the removal of specified risk materials—those tissues that studies have demonstrated could contain the BSE agent in infected cattle—from the human food chain, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's 1997 ruminant to ruminant feed ban.
Q. What is the risk of contracting BSE infection from consuming this meat from Hallmark?
A. Negligible. The federal government has an interlocking system of controls to protect the food supply and to prevent animals with signs of central nervous system disorders from entering the food chain.
Cattle at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company passed ante-mortem inspection before slaughter.
While the federal government has multiple regulations regarding BSE in place, the prevalence of the disease in the United States is extremely low. Since June 1, 2004, APHIS has sampled more than 759,000 animals and, to date, only 2 animals have tested positive for BSE under the program.
Q. Why did the USDA move from the enhanced BSE surveillance program to the ongoing surveillance program in 2006?
A. Using information from the enhanced surveillance efforts, USDA scientists developed a program that is more commensurate with the extremely low level of risk in the United States.
Q. If the level of risk is so low in the United States, shouldn't USDA increase the number of animals tested to try and find the disease in the U.S. cattle population?
A. The ongoing BSE surveillance program, which will sample approximately 40,000 animals each year, will continue to draw samples from cattle populations where the disease is most likely to be found. This level of testing in these specific cattle populations allows USDA to detect BSE at the very low level of less than 1 case per million adult cattle, assess any change in the BSE status of U.S. cattle, and identify any rise in BSE prevalence in this country.
Q. What specific cattle populations does USDA focus on in its BSE ongoing surveillance program? Where are samples collected for testing?
A. USDA's ongoing BSE surveillance focuses on cattle exhibiting signs of central nervous disorders or any other signs that might be associated with BSE, including emaciation or injury, and dead cattle, as well as non-ambulatory (downer) animals.
Samples from the targeted population will be collected from the same locations as during the enhanced surveillance program, including farms, veterinary diagnostic laboratories, public health laboratories, slaughter facilities, veterinary clinics, and livestock markets. Samples will be collected from renderers and 3D/4D facilities, with a quota set at 5,000 samples per year.
Q. Who conducts sample testing? What kind of testing is done?
A. USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa, along with contracted veterinary diagnostic laboratories, uses rapid screening tests as the initial screening method on all samples. Any inconclusive samples will be sent to NVSL for further testing and analysis.
Q. What protections are in place to protect the food supply from downer cattle and exposure to BSE?
A. FSIS regulations prohibit non-ambulatory disabled ("downer") cattle from entering the food supply.
In July 2007, FSIS issued a final rule "Prohibition of the Use of Specified Risk Materials for Human Food and Requirements for the Disposition of Non-Ambulatory Disabled Cattle." This rule requires that a case by case disposition must be made by an FSIS Public Health Veterinarian for every animal that becomes non-ambulatory disabled ("downer") after passing ante-mortem inspection.
The prohibition of downer cattle from entering the food supply is only one measure in an interlocking system of controls the federal government has in place to protect the food supply. While the government has multiple regulations regarding BSE in place, the prevalence of the disease in the United States is extremely low.
Other BSE security measures include the feed ban that prohibits feeding ruminant protein to other ruminants and an ongoing BSE surveillance program that began before we experienced our first BSE positive cow in the U.S. in 2003.
As another measure to reduce the risk of potential exposure to consumers, FSIS requires the removal of specified risk materials (SRM) from entering the food supply.
FSIS line inspectors are stationed at designated points along the production line where they are able to directly observe SRM removal activities. Other off-line inspection personnel verify plant SRM removal, segregation and disposition practices.
Q. What is a non-ambulatory, "downer," animal and how are they handled?
A. Non-ambulatory disabled livestock are livestock that cannot rise from a recumbent position or that cannot walk, including, but not limited to, those with broken appendages, severed tendons or ligaments, nerve paralysis, fractured vertebral column, or metabolic conditions.
Once an animal that is ambulatory has passed ante-mortem inspection and then becomes non-ambulatory disabled, for example with evidence of an acute fracture, such an animal must be re-examined by the Public Health Veterinarian to determine whether the animal can proceed to slaughter.
Ambulatory livestock with a broken leg should be driven as little as possible to prevent inhumane handling during ante-mortem inspection. If the animal is passed for slaughter, it should be handled as humanely as possible while moving to the stunning area. In some cases, it might be appropriate for the establishment to stun the animal in the pen area to minimize discomfort, rather than forcing it to walk to the stunning area.
Q. Are downer cattle allowed to enter the food supply?
A. On July 13, 2007 FSIS issued the final rule "Prohibition of the Use of Specified Risk Materials for Human Food and Requirements for the Disposition of Non-Ambulatory Disabled Cattle."
This rule requires that a case by case disposition must be made by an FSIS Public Health Veterinarian for every animal that becomes non-ambulatory disabled after passing ante-mortem inspection.
If the Public Health Veterinarian determined that the animals had sustained an acute injury, then it would have been passed and eligible for processing. If the disposition was found to be a chronic condition, then the animal would be condemned and therefore considered unfit for food.
The prohibition of downer cattle from entering the food supply is only one measure in an interlocking system of controls the federal government has in place to protect the food supply.
Other BSE measures include the feed ban that prohibits feeding ruminant protein to other ruminants, an ongoing BSE surveillance program and the required removal of specified risk materials.
FSIS requires the removal of specified risk materials (SRM) from entering the food supply. According to scientific evidence, the tissues containing the infectious agent that causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) are the brain, spinal cord, and distal ileum (small intestine), which are removed from the rest of the carcass at slaughter. Therefore, the meat products are not be expected to be infected or have an adverse public health impact.
FSIS line inspectors are stationed at designated points along the production line where they are able to directly observe SRM removal activities.