(UPI)--The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services will double the number of tests they conduct for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) as part of their effort to keep the deadly livestock disease out of the U.S.

Federal officials said Tuesday, Feb. 26, they want to ensure that BSE does not get a foothold.

Outbreaks in Britain, other parts of Europe and Japan during the past year have resulted in the deaths of millions of cattle and other livestock.

"We will remain vigilant and are committed to taking the appropriate steps to keep BSE out of the United States," Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "If we ever did face a situation, we want to ensure that strong systems are in place to prevent its potential spread to the animal or human food chain."

The decision to more than double tests from 5,200 cattle sampled randomly during 2001 to 12,500 cattle during 2002 is a response to a study by Harvard University that found the risk of BSE in the United States is low, compared to other countries.

Federal officials also are boosting spending for research on BSE and for laboratory activities. Inspectors at ports of entry will be nearly doubled to 4,000.

USDAbofficials also are drafting a rule that would ban the use of certain stunning devices used to immobilize cattle during slaughter and also is considering new rules for the disposal of dead stock from farms and ranches.

In a separate matter, Japanese officials were told in 1990 that meat-and-bone meal could be the source of BSE, which struck the Asian nation late last year.

A report released this week by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries showed British officials informed the Japanese of the threat but Japan took no decisive action in response to the warning.

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