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U.S. Mad Cow Finding Shows Controls Working, FAO and OIE Say

The U.S. finding of a case of mad cow disease shows the country’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 e-mailed statement today.

A cow at a California rendering plant tested positive in a routine check for the illness, or atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported yesterday. The disease didn’t enter the human food chain, said John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinarian.

“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 case in a dairy cow is the fourth in the U.S. cattle herd since the first was discovered in 2003, in an animal that came from Canada.

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 today.

“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.”

Quarantine Inspections

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 today. 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 the U.K. 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

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, Michael Hansen, a staff scientist at Yonkers, New York-based advocacy group Consumers Union, said yesterday.

“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.”

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