USDA Extends Mad Cow Testing At WSU Veterinary College

US - The only mad cow testing laboratory in the Pacific Northwest will remain open for another six months, but officials insisted Wednesday it isn't because of increased fears of the chronic brain-wasting disease in the region.
calendar icon 5 April 2007
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture contract for testing at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine expired March 1 as part of the agency's efforts to scale back monitoring for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

The USDA has extended the contract through Sept. 30, with the option for further extensions, WSU officials said Wednesday.

"Reports circulated in the media a few months ago that stated the WSU laboratory was shutting down," said Terry McElwain, executive director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at WSU. "The USDA was simply scaling back the amount of testing being done but was intent on maintaining the capacity and ability to ramp up BSE testing in a moment's notice."

The contract extension is not the result of increased BSE fears in Northwest herds, he said.

"There is no increased concern or suspicion for BSE in the U.S. at this time and the testing we're doing is part of the USDA's routine surveillance that protects animal health and our food supply," McElwain said.

The WSU lab was opened after the nation's first mad cow case in the Yakima Valley in December 2003 prompted some new safeguards. Since then, it has processed more than 46,000 samples sent from slaughterhouses in five Northwest states.

It takes less than eight hours to test for BSE at the lab, which has the capacity to test several hundred samples a day.

The USDA announced in March it was reducing its costly national BSE testing and tracking programs by 90 percent. Of 759,000 animals tested, only two other infected cows were found after the initial mad cow scare, proving the disease is extremely rare, the USDA said.

Mad cow disease is a chronic, degenerative disease of the brain and spinal cord in cattle. Cattle can get the disease through contaminated meat and bone meal fed to the animal as a protein source.

It is thought that people who eat infected beef can contract the human variant of the disease, which also occurs spontaneously.

Source: Helena Independent Record
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