Highest Risk Cows May Go Untested;
Report Shows Serious Flaws in Mad Cow Testing Program
Statement of Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Consumers Union Findings in USDA OIG’s Audit Report
(Washington)–A report released February 1, 2006 by the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reveals serious flaws in the USDA mad cow surveillance program. We believe the USDA surveillance program is spending much of its resources looking in the wrong places for carriers of this deadly disease.
The USDA surveillance program may be missing significant numbers of additional cases of BSE that could exist in the United States, because they have not adequately sampled the cow populations that are at highest risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease. While the program identified two positive cases of BSE in the United States, it sampled less than one percent of the total US cattle population last year. USDA is supposed to test the highest risk animals. However, many animals tested were not those at highest risk, according to the OIG report.
The following are the categories of cattle that are at highest risk for BSE, along with the OIG’s findings on whether the USDA’s testing program is reaching them.
Older Cattle: The ages of the cattle tested by USDA are not known to the public. It is thus impossible to tell whether the surveillance program is getting valid results. A cow’s chances of showing signs of BSE increase with age. The two positive cows identified in the USDA program so far were seven and twelve years old respectively. The disease is seldom detected in cattle under the age of two years. It is thus extremely important to know whether USDA has been testing older cattle, especially animals seven years old and up. Neither USDA nor the OIG report state how many of the 356,195 cattle USDA tested from June 1, 2004 through May, 2005 were in this age group. Nor do we know how many were under two years old, a group in which we would expect to find almost no positive results.
High Risk Geographical Regions: The two cases identified in the US so far were from Texas, and Washington State. The latter was born in Canada, and five cases have been found in Alberta. It would thus make sense for the USDA to take extra samples from the states bordering Canada and in Texas. USDA did not take extra samples however in the Pacific Northwest or in Texas. In fact, the sampling rate in the Pacific Northwest, 76% of USDA’s goal for the region, was the lowest of the 6 regions in the U.S.
Animals Showing Signs of Disease: USDA had said it would test cattle that showed signs of central nervous system (CNS) disease. However it appears to have tested very few such animals. According to the OIG report, one problem is that slaughter facilities routinely pre-screen and reject incoming animals that show CNS symptoms before a USDA inspector sees them. The inspector therefore fails to select such animals for testing. Instead, 87 percent of the cattle USDA tested were dead on arrival at a rendering facility, cause of death unknown. Cattle die and get sent to the renderer for many reasons, including heat, various diseases, and birthing difficulties. While dead animals are higher risk of BSE than living healthy animals, many dead animals are not high risk. Especially given the lack of information about the age of the animals tested, it is hard to judge how many of the animals USDA tested really were high risk.
Because of the many shortcomings of the USDA testing program, it is possible that USDA is missing BSE cases in the United States. Consumers Union urges USDA to correct the shortcomings identified by the OIG and to continue the surveillance program at an expanded level next year.
A copy of the report is available at http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/50601-10-KC.pdf.
Talks continue to end Japan’s latest beef ban
By JOSEPH COLEMAN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
THE PUEBLO CHEIFTAN
TOKYO – The U.S. investigation into a veal shipment containing backbone that prompted Japan to close its market to American beef should be finished and presented to the Japanese government in about a week, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer said Friday.
Schieffer, talking to a small group of reporters at his residence in Tokyo, also said that Washington would be open to allowing Japanese inspection of U.S. beef plants as a way of winning back consumer trust.
Japan halted beef imports last month after the discovery of a U.S. veal shipment that contained backbone, which Japan considers to be at risk for mad cow disease. The bones are banned under the deal that reopened the Japanese market to beef in December.
Schieffer said the U.S. would soon comply with Japan’s demand for a full report into the mishap.
‘‘The whole investigation will be probably be concluded in the next week or so,’’ Schieffer said. He added the report would quickly be presented to the Japanese government to get Tokyo’s ideas on what further steps need to be taken to reopen the lucrative market.
Study Shows Beef Producers Remain Confident In Beef Checkoff Program
DENVER (Feb. 1, 2006) – Approval of the $1-per-head beef checkoff program remains high, based on a recent survey of beef producers conducted on behalf of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.
The survey, conducted in December and January, found that 73 percent of beef producers approve of the beef checkoff, which is identical to the support level voiced in a survey in January 2005. In July 2005, 72 percent said they approved of the program.
This level of support is the highest it has been since the early 90s, when approval levels were in the low 80-percent range, according to 2005 Beef Board Chairman Alan Svajgr, a beef producer from Cozad, Neb. The 2006 research indicates 17 percent of cattlemen disapprove of the checkoff, the same as found in July 2005.
Other numbers were equally encouraging, according to Svajgr. He points out that 81 percent of producers surveyed said the Beef Checkoff Program had value, even in a down market.
“Beef producers continue to see that the Beef Checkoff Program provides a good value for the money invested in it,” Svajgr says. “And nearly seven in 10 producers believe the checkoff has helped contribute to their operation’s profitability through the years. That’s encouraging news, and demonstrates producer awareness of what the checkoff was created for in the first place.”
Svajgr notes that the research demonstrates a need to better communicate about the checkoff to producers. Eighty-three percent of those producers who say they are very well informed about the checkoff also say they approve of the program. Of the 17 percent who say they are not at all informed, 46 percent approve. “We certainly would like to have all producers in the ‘very well informed’ category,” Svajgr says.
The research shows that aside from consumer advertising, there is somewhat limited knowledge of programs being conducted through the Beef Checkoff Program – although it is improving. Sixty-nine percent of producers in the survey identified consumer advertising as a program conducted through the beef checkoff, while only 8 percent identified beef safety research – the second highest program area identified. About 20 percent of respondents could not identify a beef checkoff activity.
Conducted for the Cattlemen’s Beef Board by Aspen Media and Market Research, Boulder, Colo., the telephone survey of a random sample of beef and dairy producers nationwide was completed between Dec. 14, 2005 and Jan. 2, 2006 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent.
The semi-annual survey of 1,225 producers is demographically representative of the various types of U.S. beef, veal and dairy operations in the United States, based on the 2002 Agricultural Census.
American Gelbvieh Association releases DNA Tenderness Data on Top AI Sires
During the 2006 Annual Convention in Denver, Colo., the American Gelbvieh Association (AGA) released to its members the results of DNA Marker testing on its top 25 most-used sires. The sires in the current ranking were selected based on 2004 calf production statistics.
The AGA Board of Directors committed to testing and publishing marker data on the most popular sires in the breed as part of an ongoing effort for the continued improvement of the breed’s carcass and palatability traits. This testing program for the most-used sires is part of AGA’s “C.U.T” (Carcass, Ultrasound and Tenderness) initiative, which strives to use all of the available technology: traditional carcass testing, ultrasound scan results and DNA markers to evaluate an animal’s genetic potential in regard to carcass traits.
Numerous studies commissioned by the beef industry illustrate the value of a consistent eating experience to the beef consumer. One of the components of this eating experience is tenderness. Unfortunately, the evaluation of tenderness using traditional progeny and Warner-Braztler Shear Force (WBSF) testing is time consuming and expensive.
“We can make progress with the markers, identified to date, in the range of 1 to 2 lbs (as measured by WBSF) of increased tenderness”, states Susan Willmon, AGA Director of Breed Improvement. “With the long generation interval in beef cattle we cannot afford to wait till every marker is identified and then try to select for all of them. It is much easier to increase the frequencies of a couple of these markers then add in additional markers as they are discovered and validated”, states Willmon.
The AGA, through this program, is the only US breed association that is providing this data on the most influential sires within the breed, fulfilling requests for this data from
large and small producers alike. “We are not advocating single trait selection with this program but educating our members on the improvement that must be made within our breed in regard to the carcass traits specifically tenderness”, states Willmon. “We are providing them with an additional tool, published DNA Marker data on influential sires, that allows them to add this data into the selection decision of sires that make the most sense for their production environment.”
Tenderness marker data on the Top 25 A.I. sires in the Gelbvieh breed along with discussion of the DNA Tenderness markers is available in the February issue of Gelbvieh World and on-line at http://www.gelbvieh.org. For more information contact the American Gelbvieh Association at 303-465-2333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cattle-Fax Says Strong Profits Lead To Herd Expansion
Cow-calf producers responded to another year of record calf prices with a further buildup in 2005 of beef cow and replacement heifers. During its annual outlook forum delivered during the Cattle Industry Convention in Denver yesterday, Cattle-Fax officials said total cattle numbers increased nearly 2% during 2005 and totaled 97.1 million head on Jan. 1, 2006. Beef cow numbers increased for the second consecutive year and totaled 33.25 million head on Jan. 1 — up 330,000 head from a year earlier. Meanwhile, cattle slaughter and beef production were about even with levels from a year ago, Cattle-Fax says. Steer and heifer slaughter totaled 27.0 million head in 2005 while beef production totaled 24.6 billion lbs., one of the smallest totals in the past 15 years. Fed cattle slaughter in 2006 is expected to increase about 850,000 head due to larger on-feed totals and slightly larger inventory levels. Beef production for the year is expected to increase by about 1 billion lbs. in 2006. Net beef supplies for the year are expected to increase during the year and be near record large as increased market access and larger beef exports are expected to offset about half the increase in domestic beef production. Cattle feeders, stocker operators, backgrounders and cow-calf producers should all experience slimmer operating margins in 2006 due to larger available supplies, Cattle-Fax says. Market cow and breeding cattle prices are expected to be mostly steady in 2006, but conditions could change if the drought persists in the Southern Plains. By production sector, Cattle-Fax predicts:
- Slightly lower prices for fed cattle in 2006, averaging $85 to $87. Fed cattle prices are expected to range from the mid-$90s at the spring highs and have risk back into the upper $70s at the summer lows.
- Feeder cattle prices are expected to average between $106 and $108 in 2006, $2 to $4 lower than 2005. Prices are likely to trade in a fairly normal seasonal pattern and range from around $105 at the spring lows to near $115 or better at the highs.
- Calf prices are projected to trade from $115 to $135 during the year and average about $125 in 2006. Larger net beef supplies, increased cattle slaughter and larger beef production will force prices lower during the year, compared to the records set during 2005.
— Cattle-Fax release