"In a rapidly changing world marketplace, science is the universal language that must guide our rules and policies, rather than subjectivity or politics," said agriculture secretary Mike Johanns.
"Expanding our research efforts to improve the understanding of BSE and other food-related illness pathogens will strengthen the security of our nation's food supply. These projects will help improve food safety by enhancing our research partnerships with the academic community and establish another tool to aid our response to food-related disease outbreaks."
The further investment signals the United States' determination to guarantee complete safety of its beef supply in order to regain lost US beef export markets. Japan for example banned US beef and beef products after a single case of BSE in an 8-year-old cow imported into the United States from Canada was detected in December 2003.
The US is now calling on Japan to remove its restrictions on US beef and beef products immediately, in accordance with the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. Earlier this month, the US permanent representative to the WTO Linnet Deily said that the United States "firmly believes that there is clear and sufficient scientific evidence for Japan to remove restrictions on US beef and beef products - and to do so immediately."
Deily claimed that the United States has cooperated with Japan to answer all technical issues with regard to food safety and animal health, and to resolve all scientific concerns about the safety of US beef. "Japan's continuing restriction on US beef and beef products raises serious concerns under the WTO agreements," she said.
The announcement of further investment is therefore a further step in the battle to convince former markets that the most stringent BSE safeguards are in place. The BSE research funds will be used for new BSE projects and facilities and build upon President Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget proposal, which would increase BSE research by $7.3 million or 155 per cent over 2005 funding levels.
The newly funded projects include international collaborations with the Veterinary Laboratory Agency in the UK to study the biology of the BSE agent, the Italian BSE Reference Laboratory to evaluate present diagnostic tools for detecting atypical BSE cases and the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain to compare North American and European BSE strains.
About $750,000 will go toward a biocontainment facility now under construction at the ARS National Animal Disease Centre in Ames, Iowa. These facilities will eventually allow the long-term study of BSE infection in cattle and other large animals, which can take a decade or more.
USDA's Agricultural Research Service has been a leader in research on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) such as scrapie, which affects sheep, and chronic wasting disease in deer. ARS developed the immunohistochemistry test that is currently used as the gold standard in the United States to confirm a diagnosis of BSE.
The Food Safety Research and Response Network, spearheaded by North Carolina State University, will include a team of more than 50 food safety experts from 18 colleges and universities who will investigate several of the most prevalent food-related illness pathogens.
Pathogens like E.coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter will be studied to determine where they are found in the environment, how they are sustained and how they infect herds. This team of researchers brings a broad range of expertise to tackle these persistent research challenges.
The group also will serve as a response team that can be mobilised to conduct focused research to control major episodes of food-related illnesses. Episodes could include investigation of health problems associated with agricultural bioterrorism and the deliberate contamination of agricultural commodities. USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) provided funding for the award.