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USDA extends mad cow testing at Veterinary College

PULLMAN – The United States Department of Agriculture has extended the contract for testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The new contract will run through Sept. 30, 2007, with the option for further extensions.

“Reports circulated in the media a few months ago that stated the WSU laboratory was shutting down,” said Terry McElwain, executive director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at WSU’s veterinary college. “The USDA was simply scaling back the amount of testing being done but was intent on maintaining the capacity and ability to ramp up BSE testing in a moments notice.”

BSE testing involves government inspectors and veterinarians taking specific brain samples from cattle at slaughter and shipping them to WSU. Upon arrival, the tissues are processed and assayed for the presence of the small protein called a prion thought to cause the disease. Results are then conveyed to the USDA daily. Samples have come from Washington, Oregon,
Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

Processing time at WSU for BSE testing is less than eight hours and the capacity for testing is several hundred samples a day. There have been no layoffs of laboratory technical staff. Since beginning testing in June 2004, WSU has processed 46,288 samples as the only laboratory doing BSE testing in the Pacific Northwest.

McElwain explained that the contract extension is not the result of increased BSE fears in Pacific Northwest herds.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “There is no increased concern or suspicion for BSE in the U.S. at this time and the testing we’re doing is part of the USDA’s routine surveillance that protects animal health and our food supply.”

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