WASHINGTON, D.C.- The House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Government Reform held a joint hearing today to review the Department of Agriculture's expanded Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) cattle surveillance program.
The Committees heard from Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman as well as Inspector General Phyllis Fong. A complete list of witnesses is included at the end of this release.
The U.S. developed and implemented an active surveillance program for BSE in 1990 and for the past 11 years met or exceeded standards as outlined by the Office of International des Epizootes (OIE), or the World Health Organization.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte noted at the outset, that this hearing marked a continuation of the rigorous oversight that the House Agriculture Committee has exercised regarding the Department's BSE surveillance programs, particularly in light of the discovery of the first BSE positive cow in Canada on May 20 th of last year.
"We are determined to ensure that we're learning what we need to know about our nation's cattle herd," the Chairman said.
In her testimony before the Committee, Secretary Veneman commented, "By continuing the coordination between USDA and other federal, state, local agencies, and by enhancing our science-based policies and working with our employees and stakeholders, we are confident that we can continue to provide consumers in the United States with a safe supply of meat, poultry, and egg products."
The USDA's improved surveillance programs are intended to take a snapshot of the nation's cattle herd; a baseline from which prevalence of BSE can be determined. "The surveillance is not intended or designed to prevent BSE. While not a direct protection measure itself, it will continue to contribute to the policy process determining our BSE defenses," Congressman Goodlatte said.
"What does prevent BSE and protect the public are the USDA policies on import bans on live cattle and certain ruminant products, feed bans prohibiting the feeding of most mammalian protein to ruminants, and exclusion of high risk materials and high risk animals in our food supply," Congressman Goodlatte said.
Goodlatte concluded the hearing by saying, "A great many things have been said, either out of ignorance or malice, about the previous BSE surveillance program and the current expanded surveillance program, that do great harm to our ability to shape a sound public policy. The testimony presented today makes it clear that while the BSE surveillance program in the past has had certain administrative failings, USDA is currently in the process of implementing a much improved, much expanded program and remains committed to ongoing improvements."
Chairman Goodlatte closed by restating his confidence in the safety of the American food supply, and pledged that the Committee will continue to watch closely the implementation of the surveillance program.
The related issue of animal identification will be explored in the Subcommittee on Livestock and Horticulture's public hearing to review the USDA's National Animal Identification System (NAIS) Thursday, July 22 at 10:00 a.m. in 1300 Longworth HOB.
The Honorable Ann M. Veneman, Secretary , United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Ron DeHaven, Administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Keith Collins, Chief Economist, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
The Honorable Phyllis K. Fong, Inspector General , United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Ms. Marlene Evans, Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audit , United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Mark Woods, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Gary M. Weber, Executive Director, Regulatory Affairs, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Jim Hodges, President, American Meat Institute Foundation, Arlington , Virginia
Dr. George M. Gray, Executive Director, Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
Dr. Peter G. Lurie, Deputy Director, Public Citizen's Health Research Group, Washington, D.C.