The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said the discovery of the first case of mad cow disease in the United States in December highlights the need for wider testing programs and the stricter application of preventive measures in countries where the disease is known to be present.
Currently, countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada test only a small percentage of cattle aged over 30 months for the disease, between one out of 10.000 to one out of 100.000, the Rome-based agency said.
The agency recommended testing all cattle older than 30 months, an age beyond which the disease becomes detectable, as a measure to enhance consumer confidence.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, eats holes in the brains of cattle and is incurable. Experts believe humans can develop a brain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, by consuming contaminated beef products.
The U.N. agency also recommended strengthening other precautionary measures such as the removal and destruction from cattle of the brain and spinal cord — body parts that are more likely to carry the disease — and strictly enforcing the ban on feeding animals with recycled meat and bone meal from possibly infected cows.
In other developments:
Johanns said Monday he also is alerting the president to the layoffs of 187 meat packing workers at the Excel plant in Schuyler. The layoffs are blamed on closed meat markets due to the discovery of a cow in Washington state that tested positive for mad cow disease.
More than 30 countries banned imports of U.S. beef after the Dec. 23 announcement of the disease
In all 129 cows will be killed from the Sunny Dene dairy in Mabton that had the first case of mad cow disease in the United States.
The cows will be buried in a landfill unless they test positive for the disease. Any found to have the disease will be burned or destroyed with acid.
Japan closed its borders to beef from both the U.S. and Canada after single cases of mad cow disease were confirmed in Alberta and Washington state. Burns said U.S. officials don't think the ban will last as long as a similar move against Canadian beef last year.
Burns, who was in Melbourne, Australia, on an agricultural fact-finding trip, said Australia is trying to take advantage of the trade situation. But he said that nation doesn't produce a large number of grain-fed cattle.
The United States exports about $2.6 billion worth of beef annually — with Japan, South Korea and Mexico among the biggest trading partners.
The organization says producers have lost an average of $150 a head since discovery of mad cow disease in Washington State three weeks ago.
Most foreign markets quickly shut off imports of U-S beef over concerns of product safety.
Cattlemen Executive Vice-President Greg Rhuele says he understands the urgency to get foreign borders reopened. He says the process should be expedited now since Canadian officials have admitted that the diseased cow came from their country, but he says it still will take some time.