The following is a statement by J. Patrick Boyle, President of the American Meat Institute:

U.S. lamb and beef are among the safest in the world. U.S. state-of-the- art veterinary programs consistently have protected our cattle and sheep herds from a host of foreign animal disease including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and play a major role in ensuring beef and lamb safety. Today, our herds remain free of BSE, despite some erroneous and speculative media reports suggesting otherwise.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's seizure yesterday of sheep in Vermont was another preemptive strike against animal diseases. The 233 sheep that were seized were imported from the European Union -- the only region of the world with BSE-infected cattle herds. The sheep have been under quarantine since 1998, when it was learned that they may have eaten contaminated feed in Europe.

There are many neurological disorders that can affect livestock. We call this class of diseases transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or TSEs. While BSE falls under the broad umbrella of TSEs, BSE has never been transmitted to sheep except under extreme laboratory conditions in which the BSE agent was injected directly into sheep brains. But the seized Vermont sheep have not been diagnosed with BSE.

When considering the issue of BSE, it is important to remember that the U.S. is not Europe. There are many differences in our nations, in our livestock populations, in our historic animal feeding practices and in our regulatory approaches. Europe took measures to change animal feeding practices after the disease had already developed there in an effort to control the disease. By contrast, the U.S. took steps to prevent the disease before a case ever occurred here. Clearly, this puts the U.S. is in a far better position than Europe. More than a decade after the first case of BSE was diagnosed in British cattle, no case of BSE has been detected in the U.S. In addition, no case of BSE has been detected in cattle other than those of European origin.

The U.S. meat industry supports all efforts to ensure the integrity of the U.S.' ``triple firewall strategy'' against BSE. That strategy includes import controls, feeding controls and surveillance. We believe that this strategy, which has protected U.S. herds so well, will continue to do so into the future. We support USDA's prudent efforts to protect U.S. consumers and livestock by taking control of a potentially diseased flock of sheep in Vermont.

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory and public relations services, conducts scientific and economic research, offers marketing and technical assistance and sponsors education programs.