DoD Still Confident on Safe Beef Supply in Its Ranks
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2004 Defense Department officials remain confident that beef products in operational rations, served in military mess halls or sold in commissaries are safe.
This updated assessment comes in the wake of the first disease case diagnosed at a Washington state farm Dec. 23. That sparked nationwide concern about beef safety in the United States. More than 30 countries have since banned the import of U.S. beef.
Known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE mad cow is a brain-wasting disease of cattle that affects the animal's nervous system and eats away its brain. In humans, the disease has been linked to a variant form of the brain-degenerative Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Army Col. John Proctor, a staff veterinarian with the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, said "Meals Ready to Eat and other operational rations are safe."
The center is an inventory-control point within the Defense Logistics Agency responsible for providing operational rations and food supplies, among other items, to service members around the world.
Proctor said the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration maintain that all "potentially infectious products" from the BSE-positive cow have been located and recalled.
None of the infectious products, which include the spinal cord and brain, had left the control of the companies or entered commercial distribution, he said.
Proctor said the Philadelphia center furnished the USDA with a list of its beef suppliers and its suppliers for beef components in operational rations. In turn, he said, the USDA initiated an internal recall system to see if the BSE- positive beef was in the center's supply chain. "DoD was not a recipient of any of the recalled beef products," he said.
About 30 suppliers in the United States furnish beef to processing facilities for production of operational rations; only one is located in the western United States. That company is in Oregon. Proctor emphasized that no company that supplies beef to the Philadelphia supply center was implicated in the USDA's recall.
Proctor said DSCP ensures the safety of its operational rations, meat and food products by procuring items only from approved sources. He said those sources include establishments that are inspected by the USDA or by qualified Army Veterinary Command personnel, and are listed in the Directory of Sanitarily Approved Food Establishments for Armed Forces Procurement.
Army veterinary inspectors use equivalent USDA standards "when performing inspections overseas," Proctor said.
Since the December beef recall, the Defense Commissary Agency, Army and Air Force Exchange Service and DoD's Veterinary Service Activity have all released statements offering assurances that their food supplies are safe.
Army Col. Col Scott Severin, acting director of DoD's Veterinary Service Activity, which provides food safety consultation for the Army Surgeon General and reviews food safety policies for DoD, said there has been "no indication" that DoD received any meat products recalled by the USDA for possible exposure to the disease.
"Military personnel don't need to worry about the meat they are eating in the mess halls as being contaminated with any potential bovine spongiform encephalopathy," Severin said. "We follow all the requirements that are set down by both the FDA and the USDA for food safety."
Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials issued a similar statement emphasizing that its stores have not received any meat from Washington state. Richard Sheff, AAFES food and theater vice president, said food served at AAFES facilities is purchased only from DoD-approved sources.
Defense Commissary Agency officials also released a statement in December stating that none of the beef in the 275 commissaries it operates worldwide has been involved in a USDA recall.
"The USDA has stated that the U.S. beef supply is safe and that the beef recall resulted from an abundance of caution, not fear that the meat is infected," said Army Col. Mark Wolken, chief of public health, safety and security for the commissary agency. "Should the USDA make a determination that there is a danger, DeCA would be first to react to protect the health of our customers."
Proctor said that while each DoD agency has its own priorities, "we all have the common goal of providing a safe and wholesome product to our service and family members."
He said that Philadelphia supply center will continue to monitor the situation and will continue to follow the guidelines and recommendations of the USDA and FDA. The USDA has an area of its Web site devoted to BSE updates.