BSE in the US has no food safety impact in New Zealand or threat to our animal health status

Joint statement from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

24 December 2003

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority says that the case of BSE discovered in the United States has no impact on the safety of food in this country.

NZFSA Executive Director, Andrew McKenzie, and Animal Biosecurity Director, Derek Belton said that New Zealand has been treating the US the same as Canada since BSE was found in Canadian cattle.

"It's common knowledge that there is a great deal of cattle movement between Canada and the US, and we have been treating those populations as homogenous. There are few imports of beef products from the US. These were reassessed in terms of risk when we looked at the Canadian situation in May 2003. Imports have been monitored since.

"New Zealand remains BSE-free, with New Zealand cattle brains used as the 'true negative' international standard for testing for BSE."

At the time the Canadian case of BSE was recognised in May, MAF traced back all cattle imported from North America, visited their owners, and reminded them of their responsibility to keep MAF updated of the animals whereabouts, and to immediately notify MAF of any that die. As an additional precautionary measure all cattle imported to New Zealand are tested for BSE when they die.

"The risk to human health in a situation such as the USA and Canada is extremely low. It is generally accepted by the international scientific community, that although the dose of infectious agent needed to infect cattle is very small, the likelihood of the infectious agent crossing the species barrier into humans is very low and the development of vCJD is a rare event. Even with the massive exposure to infectious agent in the United Kingdom prior to the removal of infective tissues from the human food chain, human cases have been few and the rate of new cases is declining.

"The specific tissues that are likely to contain the infective agent, and the time that they become infectious have recently become better defined. While infectivity is restricted to a few tissues, far more are recognised as not containing the infectious agent and are thus regarded as safe. Removal of potentially infective tissues from the human food chain is relatively simple if BSE exists in the cattle population.

"Transmission of the infectious agent between cattle is limited to ingestion of the agent. Removal of potentially infective tissues from the animal feed chain is also relatively simple. The ruminant to ruminant feed ban has been a very effective measure to break the cycle of infection in cattle. BSE rates in various countries over the previous 3 years have dropped significantly due to the rigorous observance of ruminant to ruminant feeding bans.

"Of added value in reducing BSE in those countries with significant rates of infection has been the testing, and exclusion from all food chains if positive, of all animals over 30 months of age."

Ends

For more information contact:
Andrew McKenzie on 021 430 187 or Gary Bowering, Manager (Communications), NZFSA 027 443 2550

There is further information at:

www.nzfsa.govt.nz/consumers/food-safety-topics/animal-diseases/bse/

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