Progress Made on BSE Firewalls, More Needed

USDA Office of Inspector General report looks at USDA's anti-BSE program.

Published on: Feb 6, 2006

Although USDA has made some progress in improving America's bovine spongiform encephalopathy firewalls, more must be done, according to a new report from USDA's Office of Inspector General.

One finding of the report says that since USDA's expanded testing and surveillance program is voluntary, it is unclear whether its sampling design was sufficient to make conclusions about the prevalence of BSE in the United States. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, says USDA should design the surveillance program to ensure it is truly representative of U.S. cattle at risk for BSE.

OIG also found that USDA has not maintained a complete database of all meat renderers so that so that the Department can trace any possible infection back to its origins. This information is also needed to aid proper functioning of the proposed national animal identification system. The OIG listed numerous instances when USDA had difficulties tracing the origin and age of cattle. An animal ID system would resolve these issues immediately.

In addition, USDA did not conduct tests of clinically normal aged cattle in a statistically valid manner. This is important because countries in Europe have had a small number of cases with BSE from these clinically normal aged cattle. 

"The OIG found that USDA put forth a half-hearted effort to conduct this testing, and focused on younger cattle - guaranteeing their findings would be largely meaningless," Harkin says. "I am disappointed in USDA's efforts in testing these animals and maintain that their testing should be a critical component of the Department's surveillance program."

OIG could not determine if specified risk material procedures were followed due to a lack of record keeping at many establishments. OIG also found that inspectors responsible for ensuring proper SRM removal were not always experienced to identify problems. This limits their ability to know when requirements for removing risk materials are not met.