To assess the military's risk of exposure to BSE-tainted beef products, a brief description of how food is supplied to military personnel is appropriate. All beef products supplied to U.S. forces come from approved suppliers. The forces receive a majority of their food, including beef and beef products, from U.S. producers. Food is prepared and prepackaged in a variety of ration sets served during training or combat operations. Some meals are served fresh, and regulations dictate that vendors selling food destined for troops be closely inspected and regulated.1
Commanders of U.S. military units have the authority to purchase food products locally, including beef. A commander might authorize this if his or her troops had been eating pre-prepared rations for an extended period of time to offer variety and to maintain high morale. In that circumstance, if local beef was purchased in a country where BSE had been reported, the troops would be at risk of exposure to BSE. This practice of procurement of local beef, however, is the exception rather than the rule. Current policy prohibits the purchase of beef from a country reporting cases of BSE, but it does not prohibit the purchase of beef from other countries, so long as the source is approved by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Veterinary Services. Some of this beef was purchased from the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Japan before it was recognized as potentially being infected with the BSE agent.
Military personnel, as well as their families, also have access to beef products through several other outlets. The first is a commissary system. These commissaries are military supermarkets stocked primarily with food products from the United States. U.S. producers generally supply all the beef sold in these commissaries. However, in some European countries where BSE had been reported, some beef sold in commissaries was locally procured for certain periods of time. From 1980 to 1989, the monthly foreign beef procurement from non-U.S.