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Surveillance program for food animals protects human health

July 15, 2005

The USDA confirmed a second U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as BSE or mad cow disease, in June 2005. By that time, the veterinary faculty and staff of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory had already performed thousands of tests designed to identify the disease in cattle samples as part of an enhanced federal testing program.

As of July 8, laboratory personnel had performed 61,105 assays from animals in California, Nevada and Arizona, reports Alex Ardans, director of the diagnostic laboratory. The nation's total stands at 412,923 screenings.

After the first known case of mad cow disease emerged in the U.S. in December 2003, USDA officials authorized enhanced testing of high-risk animals. The agency chose the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory as one of seven strategically located labs initially chosen to participate in the $70 million program.

The laboratory follows approved testing procedures that are both sensitive and efficient. USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa will confirm test results if needed. Increased testing of the U.S. cattle population is designed to test as many cattle from high-risk populations as possible in a 12- to 18-month period.

Samples come from farms, slaughter facilities, rendering facilities, livestock auctions, veterinary clinics, and public health laboratories that identify certain dead or sick cattle before they enter the food supply. The testing program also includes a limited number of random samples from apparently normal, aged animals.

Eating beef tainted with mad cow disease is associated with a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain-wasting disease in humans.

The California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory operates in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, California veterinarians, and livestock and poultry producers throughout the state.

With branches in Davis, Turlock, Fresno, Tulare and San Bernardino, laboratory personnel conduct 1.8 million diagnostic tests each year to:

· Control livestock and poultry disease
· Enhance livestock and poultry health management
· Ensure the safety of foods of animal origin
· Protect people from diseases common to animals and humans
· Monitor and protect equine health and performance
· Develop and validate new methods for rapid, accurate diagnostic testing

Cattle and calves rank among the top ten California agricultural products, bringing in $1.5 billion in income during 2003.

More about BSE

UC Davis resources
United States Department of Agriculture
Centers for Disease Control