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Statement by APHIS of the Food Safety and Inspection Service on BSE

by 5m Editor
25 August 2004, at 12:00am

US - "The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) welcome the report and recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) regarding our enhanced bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) surveillance program.

The Office of the Inspector General's report made a total of 19 recommendations on specific program issues. USDA agrees with the recommendations and had already implemented several actions to address the recommendations in the report. In most instances, while a specific action might have been noted, the recommendations require routine monitoring or ongoing action. Processes have begun for those ongoing activities that will be conducted throughout the program. Four of the recommendations were more specific, and have been completely addressed.

For more than a decade, APHIS has taken aggressive measures to prevent the introduction and potential spread of BSE in the United States as well as conduct a targeted surveillance system. We designed our enhanced surveillance plan to augment those efforts by strengthening surveillance in the high-risk cattle population and establishing limited surveillance in the general population of older cattle.

APHIS continues to take proactive steps to further assure consumers, trading partners, and industry that the risk of BSE in the United States remains low. The objective of the new program is to obtain samples from as many of the targeted high-risk adult cattle population as possible. This intensive effort will allow us to more accurately estimate the possible prevalence of BSE in the U.S. cattle population. In a little more than two months, APHIS has sampled more than 42,600 high-risk cattle with no positive test results.

It is important to note that OIG's report looks at both the previous surveillance plan and the very early implementation phase of what will be a 12- to 18-month enhanced program. Even though we are only a few months into this enormous effort, both agencies have already taken steps to implement many of OIG's recommendations.

For instance, the OIG report recommended that the agencies better communicate the purpose of the enhanced BSE surveillance program and more completely explain the objectives and assumptions, as well as the conclusions that might appropriately be drawn from it. Accordingly, APHIS is currently preparing a more detailed document to address specific issues raised by the OIG audit and will be posting it to the APHIS web site for public review by the end of August.

The OIG also pointed out that it is critical to the integrity of our surveillance program that we obtain an adequate number of representative samples from across the United States. We agree and are continuing to take steps to ensure that this occurs. During the initial planning and implementation of the surveillance program, APHIS Veterinary Services employees worked closely with industry and State personnel to estimate the number of samples that could be obtained in each State. From this extensive work, we determined that we would get a good geographic representation in the sampling process.

In order to ensure geographic representation in our sampling efforts, APHIS created a database to analyze data at all levels and monitor the number and geographical area of samples to provide an early warning signal if we are receiving significantly fewer or more samples than anticipated for any given State or region. We have designated an epidemiologist with APHIS' Veterinary Services program to perform routine analysis of this data and report directly to the BSE surveillance program manager, who will immediately address any significant deviations in samples. APHIS also plans to utilize a variety of outreach methods, including meeting with key industry participants, conducting informational campaigns geared toward producers, and consulting with State officials to ensure sufficient samples are submitted.

In order to ensure that USDA's policy for sampling cattle ante-mortem condemned at slaughter is consistently followed by field staff, both APHIS and FSIS implemented measures to ensure a cross-check between FSIS' ante-mortem condemned cattle statistics and APHIS' BSE surveillance statistics. Both agencies issued instructions to field personnel that clearly state the policy to sample all cattle condemned on ante-mortem inspection, including how to properly collect, document, and ship samples to APHIS' laboratory for analysis. Employees in both agencies also received extensive training in the sample collection process.

APHIS also entered into an agreement with USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which has vast experience establishing and evaluating quality assurance programs, to audit the entire BSE surveillance program. AMS expects to complete the initial audit by mid-September, with a follow-up audit to be completed in the next 16 to 18 months. This program will ensure consistency between agencies and among sample collectors, as well as validating that the appropriate cattle are sampled.

Again, we appreciate OIG's report on the early phases of our BSE enhanced surveillance program. We are committed to ensuring that our BSE surveillance program yields accurate and reliable information for the general public, for industry, and for our trading partners. Since the single case of BSE was found in Washington State last December, we have worked hard to be transparent in our prevention, surveillance, and eradication efforts, with the objective of ensuring that we have the benefit of expertise from around the country and the world. We are committed to making changes wherever necessary to ensure the integrity of our efforts. We have greatly appreciated the observations and recommendations of OIG and look forward to continued cooperation with OIG in this regard.

Source: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service - 24th August 2004

5m Editor