A cow tested inconclusive in a preliminary screening test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, according to USDA officials. John Clifford, deputy administrator of USDA veterinary services, says it is “very likely” that the final testing could turn up negative for BSE.

The carcass is being sent to USDA National Veterinary Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for additional tests. Results are expected later this week.

In a statement, American Meat Institute President and CEO Patrick Boyle said the inconclusive test “should not be interpreted as an indicator that the U.S. meat supply was or is contaminated by BSE, but rather proof positive that steps taken to staunch the disease are working.”

“Regardless of whether the final test confirms positive or negative, however, the food supply remains safe because BSE has never been found in the meat we eat,” says Boyle.  “It’s important to not confuse the test results with the issue of food safety, since BSE has never been found in the meat we eat, and since all parts from all cattle that could contain BSE are uniformly removed and eliminated from the human food supply at processing.”

Scientists have only found BSE in certain parts of the brain and spinal cords, known as specified risk materials, which by law are removed during processing. Boyle noted during the outbreak of BSE in Europe, “people became ill because they consumed tissues from infected animals, not realizing that this posed a risk. In fact, brains were commonly consumed in the United Kingdom during its BSE epidemic. By contrast, in the U.S. all tissues that could pose a risk to humans if an animal has BSE are not permitted in the human food supply.”

The inconclusive test result has been expected since the expansion of the USDA’s national testing program this month in response to last year’s BSE scare. More than 7,000 animals so far have been tested under the program, which seeks to check about 220,000 animals over the next year to 18 months.

American Meat Institute