June 29, 2005
The Honorable Mike Johanns
U. S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Secretary Johanns:
I write to you to indicate how concerned I am about the Department’s credibility following the latest Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) testing debacle, and to raise additional concerns about Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) performance and leadership. Unfortunately, these technological and scientific lapses can lead to a loss of confidence – not only in your management of BSE – but also in the capacity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to carry out its responsibilities to protect us from influenza outbreaks, and other zoonotic diseases.
To be clear, it is my understanding that without the intervention of the Inspector General (IG) we would never have known that an older beef animal, first tested over six months ago, was carrying BSE. General Fong is to be commended for her persistence and thoroughness in following her investigation, without which we would not have known that USDA was using a faulty scientific testing protocol, and indeed had run an “experimental” IHC test that showed the animal to be positive back in the fall. And we certainly might not have learned that the animal, whose herd affinity is very critical to seeking out and destroying other BSE carrier animals, had been so intermixed with non-positive animals that only DNA could be used to make a potential herd identification.
In April I wrote to you about failings in the APHIS Surveillance Program. Unfortunately, I believe that this incident presents a picture of deteriorated management at APHIS more clearly than in April. In addition, I have recently heard from professionals in the rendering industry who tell me that significant numbers of high risk animals are definitely not being presented either for slaughter or for rendering, leading to a call from them for immediate regulation of on-farm land filling to prevent prions from becoming endemic in pasture on which cattle would be grazed in the future. Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that the high-risk animals, claimed by APHIS to be covered by its Surveillance Program, are really being disposed of on ranches and farms across the country.
A well-managed program for BSE identification and eradication would consist of:
Mr. Secretary, my April letter only identified the tip of the iceberg of problems in BSE management in USDA. Now you must move promptly to ensure that there are no more significant omissions and failures as we go forward.
Rosa L. DeLauro
House Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations
Frankly not one of those criteria is being met at the moment. I understand you have taken a few steps to implement improvements in some of these areas. Others, like the feed ban improvements do not fall under USDA’s authorities, yet APHIS managers are touting the effectiveness of the feed ban.
However, this is a matter for the Cabinet to address to protect our public health and the economic health of one of our largest industries. When you testified before our subcommittee in February, I asked you if you intended to work with Secretary Leavitt to protect the food supply. This is an immediate opportunity for you to do so.
I urge you to: