Committee Holds Hearing to Review USDA's Response to BSE in U.S.

Jan 21, 2004

Washington D.C.- The House Committee on Agriculture today held a hearing to review the Department of Agriculture’s response to the finding of a Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) positive cow in the United States, less than a month ago.

The Committee heard from Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, marking the first time she has testified on Capitol Hill since the discovery.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte opened by thanking Secretary Veneman and USDA for their diligent work in maintaining public confidence, in what is still the safest food supply in the world.

Goodlatte went on to question Secretary Veneman on USDA’s December 30th announcement regarding non-ambulatory, or “downer” cattle, saying that it failed to address important questions. Among the concerns the Chairman raised, were what happens to these animals when they do not move forward in the food production system.

“Questions still remain about the USDA’s downer cattle policy change and how the vital task of animal surveillance will be conducted if the animals do not find their way to government inspectors,” Goodlatte said. “I look forward to additional answers, and evidence that these and future policy changes are based on sound science.”

“Prior to the Secretary’s December 30th announcement, non-ambulatory animals were the principle target of the United States’ BSE surveillance and testing regime. Had the Secretary’s current policy been in place previously, the U.S. would likely not have found this BSE-infected cow,” Goodlatte concluded.

“The USDA, as a governmental entity, must make objective decisions regarding our response to BSE based on sound science alone,” said Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm. “That is the only safe and sure road for us to follow where regulations are concerned.”

In her testimony Secretary Veneman remarked on the state of domestic markets saying, “Some 90 percent of U.S.-produced beef is consumed domestically, and all indications are that the confidence of the U.S. consumer in the safety of American beef remains very strong. Retailers and food service outlets are reporting virtually no adverse effects on consumer demand as a result of the BSE finding. We believe this is due in part to the quick and aggressive steps the Administration has taken to protect public health.”