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USDA announces inconclusive BSE test result

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was notified of an inconclusive bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) test result early this morning, APHIS Associate Deputy Administrator Andrea Morgan reported. The test result was received on a rapid screening test used as part of the agency’s enhanced BSE surveillance program. Tissue samples are being sent to the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL), the national BSE reference lab, for confirmatory testing.

Morgan quickly pointed out that inconclusive test results are normal components for screening tests. Two previous inconclusive tests reported earlier this year sent ripples through the industry, but further testing provided negative results for both.

"The inconclusive result does not mean we have found another case of BSE in this country," Morgan said in an APHIS release. "Confirmatory results are expected back from NVSL within the next 4 to 7 days. If the test comes back positive for BSE, we will provide additional information about the animal and its origin."

Morgan said the agency has begun internal steps to begin initial tracebacks, if further testing were to return a positive result. It is important to note, she said, that the animal did not enter the food or feed chain.

"USDA remains confident in the safety of the U.S. beef supply," Morgan said. "Our ban on specified risk materials from the human food chain provides the protection to public health, should another case of BSE ever be detected in the United States."

Democrat among possible ag secretary candidates

With Monday’s announcement of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman’s resignation came speculation about possible candidates to fill the vacant position left in President Bush’s evolving Cabinet. CNN reported today that Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has been approached about becoming agriculture secretary, according to two anonymous sources.

CNN sources report President Bush’s political advisor Karl Rove spoke with Nelson earlier about the possibility; however, the Nebraska moderate has not confirmed any job offer or discussion of a Cabinet position. Nelson would be the second Democrat in the Cabinet, and his vacancy in the Senate could mean increasing the GOP’s advantage to 56 seats.

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