Updated Harvard BSE risk analysis released
July 26, 2006
Yesterday, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) held a briefing about the updated BSE risk assessment (http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Science/Risk_Assessments/index.asp) it commissioned from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. A Reuters article about the news leads with the report finding that “The U.S. government virtually eliminated the threat of mad cow disease to consumers by requiring the removal of brains, spinal cords and other high risk items from older cattle” (http://asia.news.yahoo.com/060725/3/2nm0y.html). Representatives from the Consumer advocacy groups Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Consumers Union (CU) were quoted in the Reuters story. Caroline Smith DeWaal from CSPI said the government hasn’t been as proactive as it could be while CU’s Michael Hansen claimed the report was designed to find what the government wanted it to.
Harvard conducted its initial BSE Risk Assessment in 2001 and then updated it in 2003. This time, FSIS asked the Harvard risk modeling experts to gauge the effectiveness of new safeguards implemented since December 2003 and determine the need for further controls. Even assuming a much greater rate of BSE incidence than the authors say is likely and imperfect feed ban compliance, the report finds the food safety measures enacted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture all reduce potential human exposure to BSE infectivity.
Although the Authors detail the risk reduction achieved by individual safeguard measures – removing downer cattle from the human food supply and removing specified risk materials (SRMs) – they also remind that these are reductions relative to what already is a small risk. Harvard also looked at the additional feed ban controls proposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Review Team recommendations. The authors say banning ruminant blood in ruminant feed and dedicated production lines would have little effect on disease spread. Instead, the report finds that removing SRMs from dead stock prior to rendering and banning all animal-derived protein from cattle feed would be most effective in reducing the already low risk of BSE spreading in the U.S. cattle herd.
Harvard has always attributed its findings to the strong safeguard measures the United States started implementing early on. The United States was the first country in the world to institute a feed ban before any BSE cases were found. In addition, the U.S. started its active BSE surveillance program in 1990. Since then, the United States has tested nearly 1 million cattle, particularly older cattle that are at greater risk for the disease, and found only two cases. As a result of industry and government actions beginning in 1989 and, now quantified in the Harvard report, BSE risk in the United States is very low resulting in the full protection of public and animal health.
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