Animal ID rule from USDA imminentWASHINGTON — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that a new rule on animal identification should be released “very, very soon,” and that current levels of mad cow-disease testing are adequate.
By: ALAN BJERGA, Bloomberg News
WASHINGTON — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that a new rule on animal identification should be released “very, very soon,” and that current levels of mad cow-disease testing are adequate.
Consumers shouldn’t be worried about the safety of U.S. food, Vilsack said in an interview with Bloomberg Television, a day after his department announced that routine testing had uncovered the nation’s fourth case of mad cow disease, in a dairy animal at a rendering facility in central California. The discovery spurred fresh calls for increased monitoring of the U.S. meat supply.
“We have a good surveillance system and have been successful in reducing the number” of cases of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Vilsack said. “We’re very confident in the sampling we currently do.”
A nationwide animal identification system that would let officials track sick livestock back to their farms of origin — and help identify other infected animals — has been promised by the Department of Agriculture since 2003, after the first BSE case surfaced. Cattle futures plummeted 22 percent in the week after the announcement, and beef exports didn’t top 2003 levels until 2010.
A voluntary animal ID plan was abandoned in 2010 after some ranchers refused to participate, citing cost and concerns that the proposed registry would give competitors proprietary information.
The rule Vilsack referred to, which the USDA proposed in August, would require registration and tagging of livestock moved between states, with guidelines tailored to different species. It would be put in place gradually, applying first to older animals in the U.S. cattle herd.
The case shows that the U.S. surveillance system is working, according to the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health.
The case shouldn’t affect the U.S. status of “controlled risk” for BSE, the Paris-based intergovernmental animal health group, known by its French acronym OIE, wrote in an emailed statement.
“This detection demonstrates that the national surveillance system is efficient,” the OIE said. “This case should not have implications for the current U.S. risk categorization.”
The finding of the disease before it entered the food chain should reassure importers of U.S. beef, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth said by phone from Rome Wednesday.
“The fact that the U.S. picked it up before it entered the food chain and the fact that they were transparent should give more confidence to the trading partners, not less,” Lubroth said. “However, I do see that sometimes countries take measures that are not based on science and that we do not support.”
South Korea said it will strengthen quarantine inspections of U.S. beef after the case.
The finding is a “serious issue” and Russia is ready to take “adequate measures,” Alexei Alekseenko, a spokesman for Russian food-safety agency Rosselkhoznadzor, said Wednesday. Any decision on curbing U.S. beef imports would be scientifically grounded, he said.
The OIE is waiting for official notification from the U.S. on data of the case, the organization said. Samples have been sent to OIE reference laboratories in Britain and Canada for final confirmation, it said. Based on USDA statements, the steps taken so far by U.S. authorities are consistent with OIE standards, the animal health organization wrote.
“The fact that it was picked up before anything entered the food chain is significant,” Lubroth said. “It shows that the surveillance systems in place have done their job.”
Random tests of about 40,000 cows a year, less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. cattle herd, aren’t enough to ensure diseased cows don’t get into the food supply, said Michael Hansen, a staff scientist at Yonkers, N.Y.-based advocacy group Consumers Union.
“All downers are tested, but not all animals that enter the food chain,” Lubroth said, using a term for cattle too weak to stand up. “In an ideal world you’d be testing everything but that is not really logistically possible or financially sound. The testing is likely sufficient.”