Billings, Mont. " In a letter sent today to President Barack Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, R-CALF USA commended the presidential selection of Stanley B. Prusiner as a recipient of the government's highest honor for scientists - the National Medal of Science.
The honoring of Dr. Prusiner "[f]or his discovery of prions, the causative agent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and other related neurodegenerative diseases, and his continuing efforts to develop effective methods for detecting and treating prion diseases' is a profound recognition of the seriousness of BSE to both animals and humans. Because cattle are hosts to BSE, developing methods for detecting, treating, and preventing BSE is a vital concern to all U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers and all citizens who consume beef.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an open rulemaking concerning U.S. import policies related to BSE-affected countries, known as 2007's over-30-month rule (OTM rule), which allows exports to the U.S. from Canada of cattle born after March 1, 1999, and beef from Canadian cattle of all ages. The precursor to the OTM rule is USDA's January 2005 Final Rule on BSE that relaxed longstanding restrictions on the importation of cattle and beef from countries where BSE is known to exist.
"At that time, Prusiner formally opposed USDA's efforts to unnecessarily expose cattle and humans to BSE and offered his scientific advice regarding several important BSE mitigation measures he viewed as essential for ensuring the safety of our food supply, but USDA officials not only ignored completely Dr. Prusiner's advice regarding necessary BSE mitigations, but also, they viciously attacked his credibility and integrity," said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the group's animal health committee.
For example, in public court documents USDA called Prusiner's advice "conjecture," his conclusions "scientifically unsound," his recommendations "abstract assertions," and stated his opinions had "no relevance." To add insult to injury, these USDA officials maliciously attempted to publicly impeach Prusiner by stating his opposition "serves primarily as a thinly veiled sales pitch for his own company, which manufactures a commercial test that could profitably be used for the blanket testing of millions of cattle he so strongly endorses."
"USDA's blatant dishonoring of Dr. Prusiner, who now is bestowed with the highest possible honor for his scientific contributions concerning BSE and other prion diseases, is unbecoming of an honorable nation," Thornsberry wrote in the letter. "Moreover, it is disingenuous for a nation to honor Dr. Prusiner for his superior expertise regarding BSE while summarily rejecting and ridiculing Dr. Prusiner's scientific advice on how best to protect both humans and animals from the disease. Yet, USDA's inexcusable attack on Dr. Prusiner is emblematic of its entire BSE rulemaking processes, which have put both humans and animals at risk for the disease.
"We urge you to reassess completely your Administration's position regarding USDA's open OTM rule that is undeniably underpinned by the maligned actions of USDA officials from the previous Administration," the letter concludes. "Specifically, we urge you to expeditiously withdraw the OTM rule and restore for both humans and livestock essential BSE mitigation measures, many of which were identified by Dr. Prusiner and other esteemed scientists, though arbitrarily abandoned in the antecedent rule by your predecessors."
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