June 20, 2005
The market broke last week. We were expecting it to become softer, but the most recent news on the ongoing BSE situation reared its ugly head again—and for no real good reason.
The USDA held their BSE roundtable meeting recently in Minneapolis, MN, and a multitude of interested groups played their cards. Then, Friday evening, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which is USDA’s watchdog office, made the announcement that they wanted to send samples to Weybridge, England, for more testing on a suspected Texas cow that showed a false positive last November. OIG wanted all three preliminary positive cases in the U.S. tested again with the widely used Western blot test. USDA uses only the immunohistochemistry (IHC) test, which is considered the “Gold Standard” for BSE testing.
I have been told that the IHC test is utilized by the USDA because it will specifically identify cattle for BSE, while the Western blot test will uncover a wider variety of prions, such as scrapie and other mutated proteins. This is why Japan has come up with BSE tests in cattle under 30 months of age. Canada also uses this test, which would be why they contend that their testing is better than the USDA’s chosen IHC test.
It’s a little perplexing why OIG came out with this announcement the day after Ag Secretary Mike Johanns held his industry roundtable meeting on BSE. Of the nine representatives on the panel, seven felt USDA’s BSE surveillance and firewall systems are working and doing the job well. The two who disagreed that the surveillance and firewalls have been successful were—you guessed it—R-CALF and the National Farmers Union.
One could speculate that someone in the OIG may have had an axe to grind. One speaker at the roundtable suggested, there may be a little budget building going on with the OIG. And we’ve heard some rumblings that the company that manufactures the rapid BSE test forced the issue and asked OIG to retest the preliminary positive samples to prove their test is 100 percent accurate.
OIG is like Internal Affair in a police department trying to find corruption.
Consumers Union had been bantering with USDA since February to test the suspect BSE samples with the Western blot test. OIG felt that since the Texas cow sample tested positive to the rapid BSE test and then tested negative to the IHC test that more testing was justified and decided to test all the samples. The Western blot test showed one sample testing positive and the other two negative. As a tiebreaker, they were trying to send the samples to Weybridge. Now we’re hearing that they may not have enough sample left to send to Weybridge for more testing.
It is without question in every cattle producer’s best interest to get this BSE thing settled and agree on the rules. The rub with Canada is just causing more and more press on BSE and creating more market risk for all producers, and I don’t know anyone in this business willing to take on more risk.
USDA has gone out of its way to find BSE; nearly 385,000 head of cattle have been tested for the brain wasting disease. One wouldn’t think that there would be any conflicting issues within the cattle and beef industry’s fight to combat the issue.
When it comes to eradicating BSE, there is nothing more that anyone knows how to do to prevent BSE from going any further. Statistics show the systems in place are working. The feed systems and the surveillance systems have done a pretty good job. There are 150 people worldwide who have died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the human equivalent of BSE. That tells us the odds of anyone getting CJD through BSE infected meat are almost nil.
This thing is taking on an ugly complexion. On one hand we have the scientists saying that with these preventative measures in place, the product is safe and poses no human or animal health issues. On the other hand, we have lawyers and the judiciary saying: No, it’s not safe. Could it be possible that this entire issue is about money and not the consumer? My thought is to always follow the money. — PETE CROW