Flaws Exist in BSE Testing Plan

Inspector General draft report says enhanced surveillance program can't accurately determine prevalence of BSE. Compiled by staff

Published on: Jul 15, 2004

The enhanced surveillance program for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) testing may not accurately be able to determine the prevalence of BSE in the United States, according to a draft report released by the Inspector General.

Last year 20,000 high-risk cattle were tested for the disease. After the first case of BSE was found in the United States, USDA officials announced they would increase testing by 10 fold (200,000 animals) over the next 12-18 months which would provide a scientific assessment to the level of BSE in the country.

The USDA says its enhanced program is designed to find one case of BSE at a rate of one in 10 million. The Inspector General report concludes that since the sampling is not random, is does not properly represent the entire cattle industry. "Because the plan's design, discovery of any BSE cases should cause the confidence level in its overall conclusions to drop dramatically," the draft says. "Therefore, any statistical projection may give the appearance of being more reliable than it is."

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Tom Harking says, "Plain and simple, we must have a BSE surveillance system in this country that accurately determines whether and to what extent BSE may exist in this country," said Harkin. "That means we must use the best tests available to guarantee the most accurate results, identify the proper animals to test, and then test sufficient numbers of those animals. If we are to restore consumer confidence and stabilize our cattle industry, we must be confident our results are accurate."

The report also identified that there is still no process for obtaining samples from animals that die on farms, which present the highest-risk.

Harkin adds, "Serious questions still remain about USDA's efforts to detect the prevalence, if any, of the disease and protect consumers and animal herds. USDA must address the shortcomings outlined in the report and do so quickly. Too many questions still remain about USDA's handling of this issue."

The House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Government Reform held a joint hearing Wednesday to review BSE cattle surveillance program. The USDA's improved surveillance programs are intended to take a snapshot of the nation's cattle herd; a baseline from which prevalence of BSE can be determined. "The surveillance is not intended or designed to prevent BSE. While not a direct protection measure itself, it will continue to contribute to the policy process determining our BSE defenses," says House Ag Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte.

To view the draft report, click HERE. (This link requires your computer to have Adobe Acrobat Reader. For a free download, visit Adobe's Web site.)