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GWEN IFILL: Now another big change announced by the government today. New rules and new bans to prevent mad cow disease in American cattle. USDA Secretary Ann Veneman laid out the decision at an afternoon news conference. Here is some of what she had to say.
ANN VENEMAN: Effective immediately, USDA will ban all downer cattle from the human food chain. We will also continue an aggressive surveillance program for BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy]. However, these 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. Next, in order to further prevent human exposure to high-risk tissues and protect public health, USDA will implement new regulations.
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.
In addition, for all cattle, the small intestine will also be considered unfit for human consumption and prohibited from inclusion in human food. Tonsils will remain prohibited from the human food chain.
Another area we are addressing in the regulations will provide additional process controls for facilities that use a process called Advanced Meat Recovery, or AMR systems. AMR is a technical process that enables processors to remove smaller amounts of meat from carcasses without breaking bones.
The new AMR rule will ensure that spinal cord tissue and another central nervous system tissue known as dorsal root ganglia are not present in the AMR product. We will also specify that the skull cannot be used in AMR systems.
USDA is also working to take the next step toward implementation of a verifiable system of national animal identification. Currently, many animals can be identified through some system of animal ID. In fact, the cow in question was subject to an animal ID system, which has facilitated our investigation in this case over the past week.
Such a system will help enhance the speed and accuracy of our response to disease outbreaks across many different animal species.
REPORTER: With these new regulations, do you see beef prices rising for consumers?
ANN VENEMAN: I don’t expect an increase in the price to consumers. 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.
We slaughter somewhere in excess of 35 million head a year, and it’s estimated that the downer cattle were in the range of one fifty to two hundred thousand. So as you can see, that’s a very small percentage.
REPORTER: Have you made any decisions yet about reductions of the quarantine herds in Washington state?
ANN VENEMAN: We are still reviewing those herds as part of the investigation. At this time, there are two herds that remain under quarantine. One is the dairy itself where the index animal came from initially, and the other is the facility where the calf from this cow went.
And both of those remain under quarantine, and we are still reviewing, in the case of the dairy, all of the various records, the cattle, looking at which other ones may have come in the same herd from Canada.
Again, I would remind all of you that we are only one week into this situation. We’re announcing some fairly aggressive actions today. We think they’re appropriate actions. But there will be follow-up measures that we will be assessing as we go forward.
GWEN IFILL: Secretary Veneman also said she would appoint an international panel of scientists to assess how the U.S. handled its initial response to the nation’s first mad cow case.