By Darrell Todd Maurina
Local dairymen and beef producers said the discovery of mad cow disease in a Canadian-born dairy cow raised in Washington state shouldn’t cause Americans to shun beef or dairy products.
Wayne Palla, chairman of the Southwest Council of Dairy Farmers of America, cited a DFA national press release on dairy safety and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the technical name for mad cow disease.
“We want to assure the American public that milk and dairy products are just as safe and wholesome as they have always been,” according to the DFA statement. “The World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and other major health organizations have repeatedly confirmed that milk and milk products do not contain or transmit BSE.”
Palla said the Washington dairy cow likely got into the beef products stream when it began to fail in its milk production.
“About 30 to 35 percent of the entire national dairy herd goes into the beef food chain each year,” Palla said. “After their useful life in the dairy, which is based on production ability, they are sold into the commercial beef industry through slaughter.”
Palla said government testing procedures worked.
“Since 1997, the USDA implemented testing procedures on any cows at the packing plant that are suspect. That’s how they found the one cow in Washington,” Palla said. “The cow that was suspect came over as a 2-year-old in a herd of 74, they are looking for the other 73 and are pretty confident they will find them.
“The beef supply in the U.S. is probably the safest in the world,” Palla said. “These safeguards have been in place since 1997 and this is the first cow that showed up, so I think you’ve got a lot more to worry about than getting BSE from eating beef.”
Pat Woods, president of the Curry County Farm and Livestock Bureau and a member of the national Cattlemen’s Beef Board appointed by the federal secretary of agriculture, said strong government food regulations mean consumers can be confident their beef is safe.
“This is the biggest bomb that could go off for our industry; I’m trying to convince everyone I talk to of the safety of our food supply,” Woods said. “There are so many laws we are operating under that we believe it is the safest food supply in the world.”
Woods said federal regulators are considering steps to make it even easier to trace problems when they come up.
“The biggest thing that may come out of this is they are talking about a mandatory numbering system where every cow in the nation would have its own identification,” Woods said. “That would be a tremendous undertaking as far as cost but it would dang sure identify every cow.”
Woods said the American system is much stricter than the European regulatory system that led to the deaths of hundreds of people in England and the wholesale slaughter of many herds.
“For years in Europe when a cow was a downer and not good for anything else, they ground it up and fed it to cattle as a protein supplement and that is why they had such a wide outbreak of this disease,” Woods said.
“We haven’t allowed the use of this bone meal or the brain since 1997. The US Department of Agriculture has taken some broad steps prior to this disease showing up to try to never have this disease in the United States, and now they are taking broad steps to quarantine this particular herd and to check the progeny of this herd.”
According to the National Cattlemen’s Foundation:
> The BSE agent is not found in meat like steaks and roasts. It is only found in central nervous tissue such as brain and spinal cord.
> All U.S. cattle are inspected by a USDA inspector or veterinarian prior to harvest. Animals with any signs of neurological disorder are tested for BSE.
> BSE affects older cattle, typically over 30 months of age. The majority of the cattle going to market in the U.S. are less than 24 months old.
> The only way BSE spreads is through contaminated feed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1997 instituted a ban on feeding ruminant-derived meat and bone meal supplements to cattle. This is a firewall that prevents the spread of BSE to other animals if it were present in the U.S.
— Courtesy Pat Woods, President, Curry County Farm and Livestock Bureau