July 20, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203
Assembly Meeting Examines Cornell's Role in Testing for Mad Cow Disease
Veterinary School Lab Needs Overhaul to Maintain Ability to Conduct Cutting Edge Research

(New York, NY) - Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, co-sponsored a roundtable meeting today at Cornell University's Veterinary School Laboratory with the Assembly Committee on Agriculture on Cornell University's role in researching, monitoring and testing for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or Mad Cow Disease). The Task Force and Committee have sponsored two public hearings on Mad Cow Disease and this meeting was designed to address several questions that arose at the hearings regarding improved testing methods, the need for more testing of cows and an increased role for Cornell in such testing.

The outbreak of two animal diseases - BSE and Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) - in Europe has raised concerns that these diseases could appear in the United States. Over the last 10 years millions of cattle have been destroyed to prevent the spread of BSE in Europe. During the last few months, FMD outbreaks have also led to the destruction of millions of cattle and sheep in Europe, mainly in the United Kingdom (UK). In addition to animal health problems, BSE has been linked to a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), a fatal neurological disease of humans, which caused the death of nearly 100 people in the UK. Although BSE, FMD and vCJD have spread from the UK to other European countries, to date, there are no known or suspected cases of BSE or vCJD in the U.S. and there have been no cases of FMD here since 1929. FMD is not considered a threat to human health and there is no link between BSE and FMD other than their presence in animals. However, both diseases represent a serious potential threat to animal agriculture in New York and the rest of the country.

According to Ortiz, "We need to be proactive to prevent these dangerous diseases from reaching our shores. In Europe, some believe that action was too little and too late to effectively control Mad Cow and Foot-and-Mouth. This meeting and our previous hearings are being held to make sure that we are taking all necessary measures and hopefully reassure the public and our farmers."

At the hearings several witnesses testified that more testing of cows and further restrictions on animal feed would be beneficial to help protect New York agriculture and the food supply. Ortiz agreed that there is a need for more surveillance testing of New York cattle for BSE. The US has tested 12,000 cattle since 1990, while France is currently testing 20,000 per week. Ortiz asked for funding in the State budget for a demonstration project to begin a State testing program at Cornell, preferably with newly developed tests that can be used on live animals. This could help reassure farmers and consumers that New York is the gold standard for preventing BSE.

"I would like to see Cornell University take the lead in improving and increasing testing of cattle in New York and the rest of the country. However, at our hearings I learned that we need to upgrade their Veterinary School Lab so they can have facilities that can accommodate research on dangerous diseases such as BSE. I am urging the Governor to make it his priority to have a world class animal health research laboratory at Cornell."

Assemblyman Ortiz also wrote to President Bush calling for a federal ban on the use of all animal parts in all animal feed to prevent Mad Cow Disease and for more federal support of testing cows for BSE and humans for CJD and new variant CJD (vCJD). CJD is a naturally occurring neurological disease mostly affecting the elderly, and vCJD is the human form of Mad Cow Disease, believed to be contracted from eating contaminated beef.

Ortiz said, "Our federal government should, at a minimum, follow England's rules for animal feed. I asked President Bush to implement the same rules. However, in the absence of federal action I introduced legislation (A.7931) for New York that would have the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets establish a certification program that would certify feed mills, farms, animals and food products that did not produce or use feed containing any animal parts - including meat, bone, blood, gelatin and any other potentially risky components.

Certification would allow New York and other states' farmers to know the feed they buy meets the requirements of their customers who don't want animal parts used. It would also provide documentation of meat and other animal food products that come from those farm animals. This approach would allow restaurants, stores, schools and consumers to identify meat and other foods that meet standards as strict as or stricter than England's.

McDonald's Corporation recently asked its suppliers to certify that no meat and bone meal can be fed to cattle they buy from meat suppliers.

Ortiz also called for more funding to test for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and new variant CJD (vCJD). Ortiz' letter pointed out that, "The CDC has a center for monitoring CJD at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. It receives about $240,000 per year for testing and research to track these diseases, which could help identify if any humans have contracted Mad Cow Disease or variant CJD (vCJD). European countries are spending millions each year to track this condition. We need to spend more for monitoring CJD. Too often, families lose loved ones to neurological diseases where the cause is unclear and may be CJD. This disease can be transmitted through certain transplants and surgical procedures and there is concern about blood transfusions. We need improved testing to prevent further spread of CJD."

While precautionary measures are in place, government agencies need to ensure that we effectively ban dangerous animal parts, track suspicious products that could contaminate animals and eventually sicken humans, better monitor fatal neurological conditions and expand the testing for these deadly diseases. Assemblyman Ortiz would like to learn from government, university and industry experts, regulatory officials, farmers, and consumer advocates about what New York can and should do about these issues.

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