USDA to Begin Tests on Healthy Cattle for Mad Cow
Author: Christopher Doering
"We haven't set a date yet" to start the testing, said Jim Rogers, spokesman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "We're still making final arrangements."
The enhanced testing program is scheduled to expire by the end of December. The voluntary testing of the healthy cattle will be completed before then.
USDA said it will test the animal by taking a brain sample at the slaughter plant. Brain is defined as a specified risk material that can transmit mad cow and must be removed in cattle 30 months or older before slaughter. The agency has not determined if producers will be compensated for participating.
There were about 105 million head of cattle in the United States as of July 1, according to USDA data.
"We certainly don't expect to find (mad cow) in the 20,000 clinically normal animals," he added.
Following the discovery of the first US case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in December 2003, the USDA increased the number of cattle tested for the brain-wasting disease.
Most of the cattle tested under the enhanced program have been at-risk animals -- older cattle condemned at slaughter because they were dead on arrival, too sick or injured to walk, or showed signs of central nervous system disorders.
Since June 1, 2004, the United States has sampled nearly 500,000 cattle brains in animals seen as at the highest risk and found one additional case in a 12-year-old Texas beef cow.
USDA has been under pressure from Congress to start testing healthy cattle, despite protests from some in the administration who argue it is a waste of time and money.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, both Democrats, sent USDA Secretary Mike Johanns a letter in July asking why the agency had not started testing 20,000 healthy cattle as it had promised.
An aide on the Senate agriculture committee said Harkin, the senior Democrat, was pleased USDA was moving forward with the testing.
"These cattle have been found to have mad cow disease in other countries and it's critical they test them," the aide said. "Harkin believes that USDA's testing regime needs to be expanded further to include more numbers."
The healthy animals will be chosen from the 40 US slaughter plants that handle 86 percent of the aged cattle processed for human consumption each year in the United States.
The carcasses will be held and not allowed to enter the food chain until test results show the samples were negative for BSE, the USDA said.