BSE Investigation Complete

USDA halts epidemiological investigation after identifying 28 of the 80 index cow's herd mates. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Feb 9, 2004

An international panel of experts gave a number of recommendations to the United States last week after the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was found. Today, the USDA put into action a recommendation made by the panel--to halt the ongoing epidemiological investigation and begin using those resources to help implement new regulations.

The index cow from a Mabton, Wash. herd was one of a total of 81 animals sent to the United States in the fall of 2001. Since Dec. 23, investigators have examined identification records of 75,000 animals. USDA Chief Veterinary Officer Ron DeHaven reports that 255 animals of interest, those confirmed or ones that could not be positively ruled out as birth herd mates, were identified on a total of 10 premises in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

He adds that 28 of the 81 have been positively identified, with 220 unable to be excluded. Twenty-five animals from the birth herd are known to be born a year before and after the index cow. Of those 25, 14 were positively identified and euthanized. Also, Canadian Chief Veterinary Officer Brian Evans had once reported that 17 heifers also were sold from the birth herd. DeHaven says that seven heifers from that bunch were also found. All suspect animals were tested for BSE--all testing negative.

Addressing additional panel recommendations

Food and Drug Administrator (FDA) Director of Veterinary Medicine Steve Sundlof says the department is torn between two conflicting recommendations from the international BSE review panel of experts and the Harvard Risk Assessment.

One recommendation addressed the need to ban specified risk materials (SRM) from all animal feed and pet food. He explains that there are two different views on the SRM issue and the FDA was "a little bit surprised about the expert committee's view on SRMs." According to Harvard's studies, even if as many as 500 BSE cattle were introduced into the United States' cattle herd, the disease would still eradicate itself in 10 years. "I think this is quite a different outcome than the recommendations are considering," he adds.

When questioned if the FDA was strongly considering the suggestion to expand the feed ban beyond just ruminant to ruminant, he replies that they are taking the report into account in the rule-making process. But in the meantime we will "try to resolve the differences between the risk Harvard has indicated and the expert committee's recommendations."

A heap of feed

DeHaven also states that 2,000 tons of meat and bone meal that may have been potentially contaminated from the infected cow have been properly disposed. Sundlof explains that this tonnage may seem large, considering that the meat recall was only for 10,000 pounds of meat. However, because of extensive co-mingling of feed from various days, the FDA put a hold on all materials from Dec. 1 to Dec. 23.

"It is impossible to tell whether feed might have been co-mingled with the material from the [index animal] that was slaughtered," Sundlof says. "It turned out to be 2,000 tons of material that could have potentially been contaminated."

He adds that none of the material entered animal feed or product that the FDA regulates.