Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Transcript of Technical Briefing on BSE with USDA Chief Veterinary Officer Ron DeHaven and David Hegwood, senior advisor on International Trade to the Secretary of Agriculture - Washington D.C., January 26, 2004

MR. JIM ROGERS: Hello, everyone. This is Jim Rogers with the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. Today we have with us Dr. Ron DeHaven, the chief veterinary officer for the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, part of USDA. We're going to do a little talking today about our epidemiological investigation, after which there will be a question and answer session. As those of you that have been on this call before know, to ask a question you press "star 1." At the time of your question we do ask that you identify yourself and the media that you represent.

At this point I'm going to turn it over to Dr. DeHaven.

DR. DEHAVEN: Thank you, Jim. And I want to thank everyone for joining us today. It's been quite some time since our last briefing and so much of the purpose behind this briefing is simply to update you on activity since our last media briefing.

I have here with me today also to address trade issues, David Hegwood, who is the senior advisor to the Secretary for International Trade.

Let me begin again by just a brief update on our activity since the last briefing as it relates to our investigation. We have continued our effort to identify those animals of interest, primarily the 81 head that entered the United States from the birth herd in Alberta, Canada. These are the 81 included on a health certificate that entered the US in September of 2001 and that 81 includes the cow that tested positive at the slaughter plant in the state of Washington.

We've been working to narrow the population of animals in various herds that we have epidemiologically linked to those 81, and we have been able to positively identify 28 of those 81 animals; but in the process of going through those herds we have reduced the number of animals or reduced the population of those of interest by eliminating from consideration or concern any animals in those epidemiologically traced herds that are of the wrong age -- in other words, not of the age span that we would anticipate these animals of being -- by ruling out any through records on those farms that we can definitively say were born on that farm or that entered those herds of interest at a time inconsistent when we know these 81 animals left.

So through that process of elimination and tracing to those herds, we've been able to positively identify 28 of those animals, and in those larger groups of animals within these multiple herds very likely have others within that group of 81 animals that we're looking for that would have originated from the birth herd in Alberta, Canada.

As we are narrowing those populations of animals in these dairy herds -- and some of them are quite large -- we are euthanizing and testing animals that would be either those animals that we have positively identified as part of the 81, or those that we can't rule out as not being part of those 81. To that end in the index dairy herd in Mabton, Washington, we have sacrificed and tested 131 animals, all of them negative both to a screening test as well as the gold standard immunohistochemistry test. From the dairy finishing farm in Mattawa, Washington, we have sacrificed and tested negative 39 of those animals. And then from two other herds one in Connell, Washington and another in Boardman, Oregon, we have taken a respective 15 and 20 animals, and those tests are still pending. So we do not have test results on those yet.

Recognizing that this is not a contagious disease, and if we can identify those animals that might be of concern or might possibly be from that birth herd in Alberta, we can then safely release the hold orders on all of those herds once those animals have left those farms. And so to that end we have actually released five hold orders -- one on the Mabton, Washington, farm; the dairy finishing farm in Mattawa, Washington; the calf raising operation in Sunnyside, Washington; as well as the two herds that I just mentioned -- one in Connell, Washington, and the other one in Boardman, Oregon. So we have removed from those herds any of the animals of interest and have either tested them negative or have test results that are pending and because of that then have released the hold orders on all of those.

Let me clarify one particularly one important point that goes to the science of this disease as well as the interntational standard. Indeed we have been focusing our efforts on those 81 animals that may have come from the birth herd or that we know came from the birth herd and trying to locate them in the United States. However, we also know that the international standards would say the animals of particular concern or those animals of significance are those that are born a year before or a year after the positive animal. The reason for that two-year window is because it's presumed that the feed that would have infected the positive animal would have been consumed during that two-year window by any other animals in the herd that might then be exposed. So we've got a two-year window where we would consider the highest risk of animals consuming contaminated feed. And so by international standards we should focus our efforts not on all animals from the herd but rather those animals that would have been born within a two-year window of the birth of the infected cow.

So taking that into consideration, we are now really focusing our effort on the 25 animals out of that 81 that fit into that two-year window. So we are, again, focusing our remaining epidemiological investigation on the 25 animals of those 81.

We've also evaluated culling practices and not just within the dairy industry but specifically within the dairy industry in that part of the country, and by evaluating normal culling practices we would have expected several of those 25 animals to have been culled from the herd by now. And taking that into account, we would estimate that it's very likely that only 11 of those 25 would still be alive.

In fact, we have found 14 of those 25 and so consider our epidemiological tracing to be quite remarkable. And in fact the international review team that was here was quite impressed with the fact that we'd been able to find that many of those 25 animals that would be of the most significance.

I think it's clear that we will not be able to positively identify all 25 of those animals because while we have found 14 of them, no doubt some of them have been culled, and I suspect we have some of the remaining 11 animals out of the 25 that might be included in those populations of interest in those herds that we have inventoried and gone through. But because they've lost identification we may not be able to positively identify as part of those 25.

Having said that, we again would make every assurance that we don't think those animals are of particular concern, either from a public health or an animal health perspective. The reason I say that is because even at the height of the infection and the prevalence of the disease and the UK, it was very rare to find more than one or two animals in any given herd that were positive. And so we wouldn't expect there to be necessarily any more or certainly not more than just one or two other animals in that Alberta herd that would be positive.

Second, if any of them had been exhibiting central nervous system disorder at the time of slaughter they would have been condemned. We now of course have procedures in place that keep nonambulatory animals from entering into the human food chain. And of course for animals over 30 months of age we're removing the specified risk materials, that portion of the carcass that is likely to be infective if an animal would happen to be positive. All of those tissues are being excluded from the human food chain.

We have had in place since August of 1997 a ruminant-to-ruminant feed bad, and knowing that that is the primary if not the only means of spread of this disease that would have kept the transmission of any of those animals having been positive to other positives. Again, the feed ban, the most important factor, in terms of preventing spread of the disease from animal to animal.

I think it's also important to note that there is, based on the scientific research, no reason to be concerned about the safety of the milk or other dairy products that would come even from a herd with a positive animal in it. And other than the one herd in Mabton, Washington, we have no evidence that we have anything other than the single positive animal. But even if there are, again the science is quite clear that the milk and dairy products even from a positive herd represent no risk in terms of public health.

I mentioned that we did have a visit by the International Review Team. We had representatives from Switzerland, Dr. Ulrich Kihm, and Dr. Dagmar Heim. We had a representative from the United States, Dr. Will Hueston, who's the director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of Minnesota. And we had Dr. Stuart Mac Diarmid who's the principal advisor on zoonotic and animal health for the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.

We also had a last minute addition to that team, Dr. Danny Matthews, a TSE program coordinator in the UK, and certainly based on the prevalence of the disease and all of the activity in the UK as it relates to BSE a world-recognized expert in BSE. So we were glad to be able to add Danny Matthews to that team.

The International Review Team asked a lot of questions. I felt quite satisfied in my exit interview with them that they felt that we had answered all of the questions or provided all of the information that they needed. They are now in the process of compiling a report, and we would hope to have that report presented to us in about two weeks time.

With that, let me pause and allow David Hegwood to address from the international perspective. David, or do we want to just go to questions?

DAVID HEGWOOD: If I can just say a few words. I just returned from Japan where we had meetings, a second series of meetings with the Japanese government since the outbreak of this disease. And the purpose of our discussions this time was to explain all of the measures we have taken since the outbreak of the disease and to begin the discussion of the conditions for resuming trade with Japan.

We did not certainly reach any agreement with the Japanese government on resuming trade. We did both agree that we need to get trade moving again as quickly as possible. The trade restrictions the Japanese have put in place, as well as other countries have put in place are causing serious economic damage, both to the US industry as well as to many economic interests in Japan. So it's in both of our interest to get trade moving again as quickly as possible.

We did agree that we would try to meet again next month after the report from the International Review Team has been completed and have some more detailed discussions about the conditions for resuming trade.

So that's all I have to report.

DR. DEHAVEN: Thanks, David. Let me clarify for those that don't know David and because he has not been on previous conference calls -- again, his title is Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture for International Trade. And his last name is H-E-G-W-O-O-D.

With that, Operator, if we could, please, go to the first question?

Followed by Q&A with reporters.

Report: Regulators Probing Cattle Trades Federal regulators are probing whether some commodity traders last month had advance knowledge that the first U.S. case of mad-cow disease was confirmed in Washington state, the Wall Street Journal said on Tuesday. According to the paper, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's enforcement chief said its investigators are interviewing possible witnesses, reviewing documents, phone records, and trading patterns on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange....FDA toughens safeguards to protect against mad cow disease Meat from downer cattle -- animals too sick to walk to slaughter -- will be prohibited from canned soups, pizzas, dietary supplements, and cosmetics, the federal government said yesterday, announcing a series of measures to strengthen protections against mad cow disease. A 1997 ban on using meat from infected cattle in feed given to other cattle will be strengthened: The new measure also bans blood from cattle being fed to cattle, officials said. The set of actions we are implementing will strengthen a series of firewalls that will protect Americans against the agent that causes BSE," FDA commissioner Mark McClellan said. Blood from the infected Holstein cow that was slaughtered Dec. 9 at a Moses Lake, Wash., facility, was tracked and impounded before it could be fed to other animals, said Lester Crawford, deputy FDA commissioner....Seoul to Maintain Ban on US Beef The South Korean government reconfirmed on Tuesday that it has no plan to lift the embargo on American beef imports for the time being. The stance was reaffirmed after a meeting on Tuesday between Korean government officials and a U.S. delegation at the Integrated Government Complex in Kwachon, south of Seoul. The delegation, led by J.B. Penn, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Thomas Hubbard visited Huh Sang-man, the Korean agriculture and forestry minister, to assure the safety of U.S. beef and beef products....Woman persists in disease probe Janet Skarbek, the Cinnaminson woman who believes cases of a rare brain disease may be linked to the Garden State Park racetrack, is not giving up her investigation despite repeated assertions by state and federal officials that there is no cluster. A cluster is an unusually high number of cases in a given population that cannot be explained as coincidence. Skarbek says her list of suspected Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease victims with links to the now-closed racetrack has grown to eight and is likely to keep growing as people continue coming to her with information....Editorial: The ineffectiveness of mad-cow testing Banning meat from obviously ill cows is only a partial solution to reducing the risk that meat infected with mad-cow disease will reach U.S. dining tables. Since testing of so-called "downer" cows was the primary way to monitor for signs of bovine spongiform encephalopathy among the 36 million U.S. cows slaughtered every year, the ban eliminates a financial incentive for producers to take their sick or injured cattle to market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture should establish a more methodical monitoring system that covers a cross-section of the cattle industry and is not dependent on voluntary participation....Mad Cow Scare May Change Animal Dumping The Washington mad cow case, ensuing international bans on U.S. beef products and new regulations designed to prevent another incident raise questions about how dead farm animals should be disposed of and whether the costs will rise too high for some farmers. "It's still a big unknown," said Tom Cook, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Renderers Association. Farmers currently are allowed to bury animals on their own property, dump them at licensed landfills or send them to rendering plants where the carcasses are exposed to extreme heat and reduced to bone and tallow....Iditarod food forced to take long way to Alaska Officials of the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska may have solved an unexpected problem for mushers that arose because of the mad cow scare. Canada has barred all U.S. beef products from entering the country because of the mad cow case confirmed in Washington state last month. That prevents mushers from their usual practice of trucking stockpiles of frozen dog food through Canada to Alaska for use along the 1,100-mile race course. Now race officials have arranged for a barge to ship the food to Alaska, race manager Jack Niggemyer said....5 quarantines lifted in mad cow inquiry The United States has lifted quarantines on five farms under investigation for links to the country's first case of mad cow disease, Ron DeHaven, chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Agriculture Department said yesterday. Animals from the farms in Washington state and Oregon that might have been tied to mad cow disease were killed and tested negative for the disease, indicating that it has not spread, Dr. DeHaven said.... U.S. Search for New Mad-Cow Cases Winding Down The U.S. Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian says he expects to wind up the search for more cases of mad-cow disease in the U.S. soon without locating all of the herdmates of the U.S.' first known case. Ron DeHaven told reporters Monday that investigators have sharply narrowed the number of cattle that years ago could have eaten the same, possibly contaminated feed as the Canadian-born Holstein found sick with the brain-wasting disease in December after being taken to slaughter from a dairy farm in Mabton, Wash. Mr. DeHaven said some animals in the Holstein's birth herd may never be located because of poor records and the likelihood that many have already been slaughtered.... Canada quarantines three cows for mad cow testing Canadian officials have found three animals associated with the Alberta-born dairy cow with mad cow disease found last month in Washington state, and will test them for the disease, an investigator said on Monday. The three animals came from the same Calmar, Alberta, farm as the Washington cow, but were sold to two Canadian farms, said George Luterbach, a veterinary official with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency....Human Brains Examined for Clues About Mad Cow If Americans develop a disease like the human form of mad cow that worries millions of Europeans, Dr. Pierluigi Gambetti may be the man to find it. Dr. Gambetti, an Italian neuropathologist whose mild manner and penchant for cardigan sweaters make him look a bit like Mr. Rogers, is director of the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University here. For the last five years, he and his staff have been collecting brain tissue from people all over the country who die from mysterious, rapidly progressive neurological disease. Now that the first case of a cow infected with mad cow disease has been discovered in the United States, Dr. Gambetti's work has taken on new urgency....Canadian Forces quarantine U.S. beef The Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are scrambling to find alternative sources of meat for nearly 2,000 soldiers after being told to quarantine tonnes of U.S. beef that may eventually have to be destroyed because of fears over mad cow disease. “Rib-eye steaks, a little over 2,000 kilograms; inside round, 3,000 kilograms; outside round, another 2,500; prime rib, 8,000 kilos,” said services manager Joe MacAulay, rhyming off a list of beef products worth more than $83,000 (Cdn.) that are stored in giant freezers and refrigerators at the Canadians’ Camp Julien near Kabul....Beef industry looks for post-mad cow rebound with new ad campaign The beef industry launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign today, one month after the nation's first case of mad cow disease and just in time for Super Bowl parties and romantic Valentine's Day meals. "The Super Bowl is a great time for people to serve up halftime snacks," said Michele Peterson of the Denver-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "We see beef as sort of the star player."....BSE Considered "Extraordinary Circumstance" The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's bank examiners will consider the discovery of mad cow disease in the U.S. as an "extraordinary circumstance," cutting banks a break on some standards, OCC said in a Friday letter to banks. Prices for live cattle and cattle futures dropped 20% to 30% in December, after the Dec. 23 announcement that a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, had been found in a Washington state dairy cow, OCC said. As a result, some loans collateralized by cattle were no longer secured by enough collateral. Normally, banks have 30 days to bring a nonconforming loan back into compliance with regulatory standards, known as the "legal lending limit." But regulators can grant a short-term exception from this standard if the problem is caused by "extraordinary circumstances beyond the bank's control," OCC said.

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