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Hearing of the House Agriculture Committee

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE HOUSE AGRICULTURE COMMITTEE

SUBJECT: THE U.S. AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT'S RESPONSE TO BOVINE SPONGIFORM ENCEPHALOPATHY/MAD COW DISEASE

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The gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Boehner.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Let me thank you, Mr. Chairman, and say to you, Madame Secretary, a job well done.

SEC. VENEMAN: Thank you.

REP. BOEHNER: The potential disaster that was about to face our country needed quick, decisive and bold action. I believe that you and your team at the department responded in a way to reassure Americans that our food supply is in fact safe, while also assuring our customers around the world that they in fact were going to continue to receive safe beef.

Now while we may have some disagreement over some of the details here, I believe if we step back and look at the bigger picture, the type of bold and decisive action that the department took was in the best interest of the U.S. beef industry and in the best interest of U.S. agriculture and our continuing concern about the safe food supply that we have.

Now, having said that, there are questions. We have decided that non-ambulatory animals will no longer be allowed to be presented at slaughter. Yet there doesn't appear to many of us that there's a plan with what to do with non-ambulatory animals, and a requirement that they be tested.

And I guess my question is that -- why would we clearly remove downed animals, non-ambulatory animals, from slaughter before we knew what the plan was to deal with them?

SEC. VENEMAN: Well, I appreciate your question, Mr. Boehner. And I think that I attempted to answer that question in response to a previous question, and that is, as we looked at the situation with regard to downers and testing in the United States, as we made this decision, we looked at the fact that we have one population of animals of about 400,000 of the so-called deads and dyings, which go into various processes, including the rendering plants in this country.

REP. BOEHNER: Are they tested today?

SEC. VENEMAN: Some are. And what we plan to do is increase testing for those animals. And frankly, the deads and the dyings are probably higher-risk animals than are the downers that were being presented at slaughter.

But again, one of the things that we want to do is, we would like to also call upon this international panel of experts, one or two of whom have had -- are specifically recognized as international experts in putting together the appropriate kinds of surveillance programs to get at the likely kinds of animals that should be tested to maintain an aggressive surveillance program. As --

REP. BOEHNER: What do we think the cost of this is likely to be?

SEC. VENEMAN: Well, we had already announced that we were going to increase testing from around 20,000 -- just over 20,000 animals last year to about -- doubling that to about 40,000 animals. We've -- and we have anticipated that in our budget.

REP. BOEHNER: It's been estimated that the cost to do this type of testing could be as high as $70 per animal. Is that your -- do you have information similar to that?

SEC. VENEMAN: I think that it depends -- testing of animals -- the cost estimates vary, depending upon what kinds of tests are used, the volume tested, and so forth. But our estimates currently are running around $50.

REP. BOEHNER: Madame Secretary, before my time runs out, one more question. Do you believe that the department has sufficient authority to develop an animal identification system?

SEC. VENEMAN: Legislative -- statutory authority?

REP. BOEHNER: Yes.

SEC. VENEMAN: That is one of the issues that we're looking at very closely. And we have, as I indicated in my opening remarks, a team that is working to look at the architecture of this. But there are some issues that have been raised, particularly on some of the confidentiality issues that we may ask the Congress to assist us with legislation on.

REP. BOEHNER: Madame Secretary, as my time runs out, even though there may be questions that members of the committee do have, and concerns, again, I can't tell you and my colleagues how proud I am of the job that you and your department have done in handling what could have been a very, very difficult situation.

SEC. VENEMAN: Thank you very much.

REP. GOODLATTE: I thank the gentleman.

The gentleman from Minnesota, Mr. Peterson.

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