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USDA initiates new slaughter house regulations

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One of many Holstein cows in the Yakima Valley

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman announced Tuesday that the USDA will be taking immediate action in implementing new regulations to help prevent bovine spongiform encephalophy (BSE) from entering the food chain.

Many of the new regulations have been in a development process in the United States since the one mad cow infected animal was first found in Canada last May, said Veneman, but they are also being implemented partially due to trade partners.

Effective immediately, Veneman announced there will be a ban on all downer cattle entering the human food chain.

"We will continue an aggressive surveillance program for BSE," she said. "However, these (downer) animals tested for BSE will no longer be marked 'inspected and passed' until there is confirmation that they have tested negative for BSE. In other words, any animal tested under our surveillance program, that will continue, will be held until the test results are known."

Under the new regulations, the USDA will also be banning specific high risk tissues, such as brain and spinal tissues from animals 30 months and older, from entering the food chain.

"Scientific studies have indicated that specific tissues from cattle of certain ages can harbor prions believed to cause BSE. Therefore, we are declaring those high-risk tissues primarily contained in the head and spinal column in cattle 30 months or older to be unfit for human consumption, and we are prohibiting their presence in human food."

The small intestines from all animals are also going to be classified as unfit for human consumption, said Veneman.

Another area addressed by Veneman were regulations in advanced meat recovery systems, which glean smaller pieces of meat off the bone. Veneman said the USDA will prohibit spinal cord tissue and dorsal root ganglia from being added to meat consumed by humans as part of the advanced meat recovery system. Also, she said under the new rules, skulls will not be allowed to be processed through the advanced meat recovery system.

Veneman said under the new regulations the Food Safety Inspection Service is banning air injection stunning, which she said will strengthen the U.S. anti-BSE system by decreasing the risk of brain material being dislodged in the slaughter process.

The USDA is also taking preliminary steps to develop a national animal identification system. Veneman the program will advance the speed with which it takes to track animals.

"Our goals are to achieve uniformity, consistency and efficiency across the national system," said Veneman.

She also announced the appointment of an international panel of scientific experts to provide an objective review of the USDA's response actions and areas for potential enhancement.

The panel will be similar to the one that was formed in Canada following the May 20 incident of BSE in Alberta.

Even with the changes to the system, Veneman said she doesn't expect an increase in beef prices to consumers at the grocery store.

"The number of cattle that enter into the food supply as downer animals currently is a very small number when compared to the universe of cattle that we slaughter in this country," said Veneman. "We slaughter somewhere in excess of 35 million head a year, and it's estimated that the downer cattle were in the range of 150,000 to 200,000."

. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail mbrowning@eaglenewspapers.com

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