Early Friday evening, when most press staff was headed away for the weekend, USDA announced it had an "inconclusive BSE test result" from a rapid screening test as part of the enhanced surveillance program for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The industry has been warning there would be such results given the increased number of animals being tests under the new program that started June 1.
The agency did not offer any details about the animal or where the rapid test was conducted, but did say the carcass of the animal has been held out of the food chain pending results of a more thorough test at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Amies, Iowa.
In a statement John Clifford, deputy administrator of USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Services, notes: "I know that there will be great interest in the specifics surrounding this inconclusive test result, such as what type of animal was tested, where the animal was from, and which lab did the testing. Because this test is only an inconclusive test result, and because of the chance the confirmatory results will be negative, we are not going to disclose this information at this time."
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association issued a statement from Terry Stokes, chief executive officer, noting that the finding is a result of a two-step process. "To test a significant number of targeted animals, the government's first step uses a rapid screening test, which can produce inconclusive results as it did with this animal," he says. "The second step [at the Ames lab] has the capability to use the gold standard immunohistochemistry (IHC) test to determine the presence of BSE."
R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America issued a statement saying it was confident of the U.S. beef supply, but calling on APHIS to release all pertinent information related to any inconclusive results, including country of origin of the animal tested. R-CALF USA says it met with USDA three weeks ago to explore alternatives to the agency's policy of announcing inconclusive test results before a confirmation of the test could be made.
"We asked USDA not to release any inconclusive test results until the agency could simultaneously provide the origin and other pertinent information concerning the tested animal," says Leo McConnell, R-CALF president. "This information is needed to ensure that U.S. cattle producers are not harmed by speculative reports, which could adversely affect U.S. cattle markets and cause market participants to assume a worst-case scenario."
USDA and Japanese officials are on the verge of more talks about re-opening beef trade. In a report in Saturday's Mainichi Shimbun - a daily newspaper - one official scheduled to take part in the talks says he wouldn't be surprised if a second BSE case is confirmed. Kazuya Yamanouchi, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, who will be part of the U.S.-Japan talks says: "Results take only a day and a half to come in if they are conducted in Japan. As far as the testing system (of BSE) is concerned, the U.S. still has some work to do."
Japanese officials are expected to ask for more information about the animal that had the inconclusive test during those talks.
The NVSL final test results will be ready within the next four to seven days, look for information about mid-week on this issue.