Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
BSE Policy Changes News Conference
December 30, 2003
One week ago today that we learned that a dairy cow in Mabton, Washington tested positive for BSE or Mad Cow Disease.
Over the past week, federal and state agencies have worked together to ensure the safety of our meat supply. They have worked to track back the source of the specific cow and traced forward its offspring.
Later, I will ask our Director of Agriculture, Valoria Loveland, to give an update on the investigation.
But first, I would like to commend the staff of the Federal agencies involved. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have all made important contributions. Their quick response over the holiday has ensured that our meat supply is safe. They have helped make us certain that we can identify the source of the infected cow.
I also want to thank the staff of our state Departments of Agriculture, Ecology and Health for their hard work. They have worked hand in hand with the federal investigation.
This morning I conferred with local officials from the Yakima area. They were pleased with the support the state has offered throughout this process. I assured them that the state will continue to work diligently on their behalf.
I spoke with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman yesterday. I emphasized that the USDA must purchase any cattle that they determine must be depopulated. I want to make sure our farmers receive full market value for these cattle from the USDA and any costs of slaughtering any cattle are covered by the feds. This must happen prior to depopulation so our farmers aren’t left with empty ranches and pockets.
There is still much to be done in this investigation. But what we have learned to date has provided us with information that I believe calls for improvements in our national livestock system.
Beef is an important industry in Washington State. It’s a $600 million-a-year business, including nearly $100 million in meat exports. It employs over 10,000 people in our state.
We need to take steps to ensure the beef and dairy industries remain viable in Washington for the long term. We must ensure that they can operate without controversy and crisis. And we need to do even more to assure the public that our beef supply is even safer to eat than ever. And because cattle and beef products move between states, we need to focus on national solutions.
Beef is safe to eat. Federal safety regulations now in place protect our beef supply. But broader testing is necessary over the long term to keep the public’s faith in the safety of beef products. There are costs associated with this. Farmers and cattle ranchers will lose money if nothing is done. But they will be well worth the price if the result is a stronger, more stable market for beef products.
I applaud the actions taken today by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.
1. No meat from “downer” cattle should be allowed to enter the market for human consumption. I understand Secretary Veneman called for this action earlier today. I am pleased the federal government has taken this step. This step is long overdue. The old policy of releasing the meat and testing it, then recalling didn’t make sense.
We were preparing to prohibit “downer” cows in Washington state from being slaughtered for food.
2. I agree with the USDA that we need a national livestock identification system. This will enable us to track the origin and movement of cattle anywhere in the country. As we have seen in the current investigation, tracking of specific cows in this situation has been difficult. It is important because it allows us to identify any potential for broader risk. A national system would allow us to do this tracking in a quick and efficient manner. We can’t track the bull calf born from the Holstein with mad cow. It is one of a herd of 464 bull calves. We must establish this system as soon as possible.
But more is needed.
3. Not just some, but all “downer” cattle must be tested. Whether at rendering plants or at farms. We need this testing to detect any other cattle with BSE.
4. In addition, to address consumer confidence in the long term, the development of a live cattle BSE test must be a national goal. The test must be fast, routine and economical.
Currently a BSE test can only be done on slaughtered cattle. The Washington mad caw was a “downer” and tested only because of a difficult birth of several calves.
5. We need to improve the timeliness of test results for BSE testing. To accomplish this, I ask the federal government to develop a process to certify laboratories in every state to test for BSE. This would relieve the burden on our one national testing facility in Ames, Iowa especially if we test every “downer” and eventually all live cattle.
Again, I would like to emphasize that I believe that beef is safe to eat. I am also confident that federal and state officials will be able to identify the source of the BSE. In so doing, we will reinforce the integrity of the American beef production system.
I would now like to introduce the director of the state Department of Agriculture, Valoria Loveland, to update you on the ongoing investigation.