By Terry Stokes

CEO, National Cattlemen's Beef Association

Preventing Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) by supporting the development and implementation of multiple firewalls remains the highest priority of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and our producer members nationwide.

Since 1990 we have fully supported the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) BSE surveillance program as one of these firewalls. As the USDA has determined over the years that more testing for BSE is necessary, the level of testing has increased with support of cattlemen. We are confident the U.S. BSE surveillance program has provided us with accurate information on disease prevalence and contributed to risk assessment efforts.

We recognize that identification of BSE in an imported cow from Canada in Washington State has hastened interest in increased BSE testing. We support a large, one-time sampling of the at-risk cattle population but this testing program must take into account the following important elements:

--The USDA must ensure that the system has the capacity to conduct this level of testing;

--The USDA must anticipate consumer confidence, trade partner, cattle marketing and other issues in advance and develop effective communication plans;

--The program must be based upon science and follow the Office of International Epizootics guidelines;

--The process must engage a partnership of state animal health officials, veterinarians, renderers, livestock markets, packers and producers to ensure access to samples;

--The sample analysis process must employ the use of only government-licensed tests used only in government-approved laboratories that are capable of maintaining proper biosecurity, as well as information and verification security. Producer information, in particular, must remain confidential;

--Because virtually all rapid tests can produce "false positives," the system must ensure that all "positive" test results be verified by internationally accepted methods;

--The USDA should organize and conduct this program in concert with Canada and Mexico, and efforts should be accelerated to maintain global consumer confidence and to expedite reopening of our export markets;

--After completing the comprehensive testing level, USDA should review and revise the level of testing and preventive measures to reflect the level of risk to our herd and our food supply.

The NCBA pledges our full support in all efforts to ensure our BSE firewalls are robust, and we are confident that increased BSE testing will prove that disease risk in the United States is extremely low.

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