OFFICIALS FROM the US department of agriculture have confirmed that the first of two BSE suspect cases has proved negative, much to the relief of US cattlemen.

The first inconclusive result from an animal tested under the US‘s new BSE screening programme came to light last Friday (June 25).

The sample was sent to the national veterinary lab in Iowa for confirmation.

Despite assurances that such “inconclusives” were to be expected from a programme targeted at around 3000 animals a week, US cattle markets suffered at the start of this week.

Traders feared a consumer backlash should the test be confirmed positive, just as happened last December when the US reported its first case of BSE.

But at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday (June 30), senior vet John Clifford confirmed that the further checks had come back negative.

A second “inconclusive” was still being examined, with results due in the next couple of days.

Dr Clifford was adamant that, even if the results had been positive, US consumers were still fully protected.

“This animal did not enter the human food chain or the feed supply.”

He also explained that specific risk materials were now banned in the US, as were imports of live cattle from high risk countries.

The current screening programme is targeted at at-risk animals, including those unable to walk and those showing neurological disorders.

The USDA plans to test over 250,000 such cattle in the next 18 months, plus another 20,000 healthy ones.

The National Cattlemen‘s Beef Association said the result was not unexpected.

“Because the rapid tests are sensitive, they are subject to occasional inconclusive results that later prove to be negative,” said president Jan Lyons.

“It is a little like going through the airport metal detector. We all have had the detector beep on us, but it didn’t mean we were carrying a prohibited item.”

Dr Clifford insisted the USDA was right to come clean about “inconclusive” test results, rather than wait for the confirmation results, even though the market had reacted badly this time.

It was better than the information being leaked, he told the press conference.

He hoped the market would soon get used to inconclusives and not be so affected next time.