A subcommittee made up five international representatives said Wednesday that although the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) infected heifer found at Sunny Dene Dairy in Mabton could end up being the only infected animal from the Canadian herd of origin, it is likely that other infected animals have gone undetected.
According to the report, presented at a press conference in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, "infective material has likely been rendered, fed to cattle and amplified within the cattle population, so that cattle in the USA have also been indigenously infected."
The report from the Foreign Animal and Poultry Disease Advisory Committee's subcommittee on the United States' response to the detection of a case of BSE has already garnered a response from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The Association said in a press release Wednesday that the subcommittee reached "inappropriate conclusions and offers recommendations based on the premise that the risk level in the U.S. for this disease is the same as the risk level in European countries."
"Clearly some members of the panel do not have a full understanding of the systems we have in place in the U.S.," said Dr. Gary Weber, executive director of regulatory affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "Many of the panel's recommendations are based on the European model and overlook scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates the long-standing firewalls in place in our country have been effective."
The subcommittee is made up two representatives from Switzerland, as well as one representative each from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the United States.
In the report from the subcommittee, it is stated that because there are likely to be other infected animals in the United States, the as yet to be identified animals from the Canadian birth herd do not pose a significant additional risk in the spread of the disease in the U.S.
However, the subcommittee noted that these unidentified infected animals have to be considered as the United States goes through the process of creating policies for the prevention of the spread of BSE to humans and cattle through feed.
One thing the subcommittee suggested as an important part of handling the BSE situation in the U.S. is better communication between the government and the public. For example, the subcommittee pointed out that placing herds throughout the state of Washington under quarantine led people to believe that the disease could be passed from one animal to another through contact, which they say is not true. In order to prevent this misinformation, the subcommittee suggested clearer communication with the public as to the reason for the quarantines.
The subcommittee also suggested the creation of more labs in the United States that could test for BSE via animal tissue samples. The report recommends that the government approve a number of labs throughout the country to do the testing as part of a "national surveillance program."
The subcommittee also looked at the North American feed ban that was put in place in 1997 as "insufficient to prevent exposure of cattle to the BSE agent." The subcommittee recommended that all specified risk material should be banned not only from all livestock fee, but all pet food as well.