USDA Not Revealing BSE Cow Origin

Little information known about second U.S. BSE find. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Jun 25, 2005

USDA announced Friday afternoon after markets closed that the U.S. had found its second case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Unlike the handling of the Dec. 23, 2003 find, USDA has decided to do a thorough investigation of the animal's background before releasing any details.

What is known at this time is that the animal was tested originally on November 18, 2004, at a slaughter facility for older animals. It is an older beef cow born sometime before the 1997 feed ban. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns reiterated that USDA doesn't "have any evidence that this was an imported animal."

Information released in the first find was updated often, but often corrections had to be made. For instance, it was first reported that the animal was four years old, and then it was determined later that it was born before the feed ban. Johanns says USDA is "quite certain" it has identified the herd of the origin of the animal but is doing DNA testing to confirm. To avoid misinformation being released, Johanns says "We're just not going to confirm anything about the animal until we get the epidemiological work done."

National Cattlemen's Beef Association CEO Terry Stokes says, "We clearly support and share with the secretary the need to have a thorough investigation before information is released."

The epidemiological investigation traces back siblings, cohorts, animals born the same year, offspring within two years of this animal for the last two years, says Chief Veterinarian Officer John Clifford. "Because this is an aged animal, obviously it's less likely you're going to find many of those cohorts in the herd," he says.

USDA examining testing procedures

Each laboratory around the world decides on what levels of antibodies to use for immunohistochemistry tests. Johanns says USDA is looking at ways of updating the testing procedures to improve the reliability of the test. "The IHC protocols in place relative to antibodies may make absolute sense two years ago. And they may not make as much sense today. And two years from now the protocols may be different," he explains.

Jay Truitt, NCBA vice president of government affairs, says it became clear that throughout the process that USDA is embracing knowledge and hasn't been afraid of applying good sound science.