The Safety of U.S. Beef
PR0368E | Date: 2003-12-30
The American Institute in Taiwan wants to assure the Taiwan public of the safety of U.S. beef and to provide factual information concerning the recent detection of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) have provided the following information. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also participating in the investigation.
Despite the recent detection of BSE in a dairy cow in the United States, there is no reason to question the safety of the U.S. beef supply, including beef exported by the US to Taiwan. International standards allow for the import of meat and other commodities even from countries that have a high or moderate risk for BSE, i.e., those countries that have had numerous cases of BSE in their own native-born cattle. These international standards have been developed with the advice and consultation of many of the top international scientists and researchers in the field of BSE. By any rational measure, the United States cannot be considered to be at high risk for BSE, especially given the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) high level of surveillance over the recent past and the fact that only one case has been found, and further that a single case appears not to have been even born in the United States at this point. Evidence currently indicates that the dairy cow was born in Canada in April 1997.
International reaction to USDA's find of this positive case has been based largely on public perception and not what we know about the science of this disease. USDA has been working with the World Animal Health Organization, the OIE, to ensure that the international response to a case of BSE is better founded in science and not just in public perception.
Even with the finding of this single cow, the US remains at very low risk. Measures the U.S. Government put in place years ago -- including the prohibition of feeding rendered cattle products back to other cattle and stopping live cattle imports from high-risk countries -- are protecting the US consumer as well as our foreign customers. Further, we have conducted surveillance testing of high-risk cattle for more than 10 years, and this is the only positive find despite that high level of surveillance testing. For the last two years we conducted approximately 20,000 tests each of those two years -- more than 45 times what the World Animal Health Standard would call upon us to test. An extensive risk assessment was conducted by Harvard University and that assessment demonstrated that the risk of BSE in the United States is very low.
Muscle tissue or cuts of meats are safe. Research shows that the prion, which is that infectious agent that causes BSE, is not found in skeletal muscle tissue. The infective agent is largely in the brain and spinal cord and the lower part of the intestines.
Research studies in which muscle tissue from infected cattle has been injected directly into the brain of other cattle, the most likely way to transmit the disease when infectivity is present, have demonstrated no evidence of transmission of the disease through muscle tissue. In contrast, high-risk tissues such as brain or spinal cord in the same study do cause the disease when they are either fed to or injected into recipient cattle.
In this case, the meat producer recalled the meat, and the recall in this situation from the BSE cow and other cattle slaughtered by the producer on that day has been done out of an abundance of caution. The risky materials, especially the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord from this animal, were removed. The risky materials went into rendered product for inedible purposes and did not go into the human food chain.
USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) provided the following summary of the current situation on the beef products related to the December 23, 2003, BSE recall. The beef products were distributed from Verns Moses Lake Meats to Midway Meats on December 11, 2003. FSIS knows that on December 9 when this animal was slaughtered, that was the only animal that tested presumptive positive for BSE. However, FSIS decided to initiate a recall of all 20 animals that were slaughtered on that day. The recall was for those 20 carcasses, which involved slightly over 10,000 pounds of meat.
FSIS also has verified that all of the central nervous system-related tissue -- that is, the brain, the spinal cord and lower part of the intestines -- were removed at the Verns slaughter facility during the slaughter that occurred on December 9, 2003. Those are the tissues that are most likely to contain the BSE agent. Because the meat leaving Verns did not contain these high-risk materials, the recalled beef presents an essentially zero risk to consumers.
This recall was initiated out of an abundance of caution following the report of this one cow testing presumptive positive. Even though USDA remains confident in the safety of these beef products, USDA will continue to verify distribution and control of all products related to this recall.
Since the discovery of BSE last week, the Food Safety Inspection Service has been working literally around the clock to ensure the protection of public health.
The meat was distributed from Midway Meats down to Interstate Meats and Willamette Valley Meats. Both of those last two are located in Oregon. FSIS has since found that the products were distributed to an additional 42 locations from Interstate Meats and Willamette Valley Meats. The vast majority of these products, at least 80 percent, were distributed to stores exclusively in the states of Oregon and Washington.
FSIS is verifying that these 42 distributors are complying with their requirement to notify their customers. In overseeing this process, FSIS has found that all of the companies that have received these products have in fact been duly and promptly notifying their customers. FSIS will continue to ensure that this indeed remains the case. There is no evidence that any of this beef was shipped to Taiwan.
Please refer to the USDA website (www.usda.gov) for up-to-date and accurate information concerning the BSE case in the United States.