IT has been 10 years since the cattle industry heard the horrible news that a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) had been identified on a U.S. farm. I imagine that many in the agriculture industry remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news.
For me, I was traveling to see family and was getting ready to stop for the night when my boss left me a message informing me of the news. My Christmas vacation turned into daily (or sometimes more frequent) calls featuring U.S. Department of Agriculture chief veterinarian Ron DeHaven, who soon became a household name for cattle farmers.
My conversations with family — many involved in agriculture and the cattle business — included the many unknowns surrounding the Washington state cow.
Unfortunately, according to Cattlefax, the U.S. beef industry has lost nearly $22 billion in potential sales through 2010 due to BSE-related bans and restrictions around the world.
It's interesting to look back at what we thought we would need versus what we actually have 10 years later.
Tucked away in my desk is a press release dated Dec. 26, 2003, with a long list of experts on BSE. I must have kept it all this time thinking I may need it, but as the years have passed, the pertinent concerns have changed.
Two of the first resources listed were Digital Angel Corp., which was in the business of tracking animals, and eMerge Interactive to discuss technology's role in tracking biohazard outbreaks. One thing seemed certain at the onset of the find: that quicker tracking would be necessary to deal with future disease outbreaks.
Instead, today, the industry is in only the first phase of its Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) rule. The final rule, published in January 2013, requires (unless specifically exempt) livestock moved interstate to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates.
"The ADT rule uses existing state programs and databases to address traceability in a way that provides flexibility for the speed of commerce," National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. president Scott George said.
In 2006, under the previous Administration, USDA initiated the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). This voluntary program asked producers to register their premises and identify their animals with a national animal tracking database. After seeing low enrollment in NAIS, the agency launched a series of efforts in 2009 to assess the issues and concerns that were preventing widespread acceptance of NAIS in the livestock community.
George said significant strides in overall knowledge of BSE have been made in the past 10 years.
"We know that the efforts of our interlocking safeguards have been effective at controlling the spread and risk of BSE," he said. "Steps like the ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, the removal of specified risk materials, the ban on downer (non-ambulatory) animals and the robust BSE surveillance program have all allowed for the effective control of BSE. We still have work to do to completely understand BSE, and research still continues through (USDA's) Agricultural Research Service.
"One thing is obvious: We're getting closer to eliminating the threat of BSE," George concluded.