April 24, 2012 (Washington D.C.) – A dairy cow carcass in central California has tested positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease. Found during a routine random test conducted on a limited number of animals at rendering plants, this was the nation’s fourth case of BSE and the first found in the United States since 2006.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Chief Veterinary Officer John Cilfford offers assurance for consumers. “The carcass of the animal is being held under State authority at a rendering facility in California and will be destroyed. It was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health. Additionally, milk does not transmit BSE”
BSE is a fatal brain-wasting disease. An outbreak in Britain a decade or so ago led to a ban on importation of British beef and a ban on “downer” (nonambulatory) cattle from entering the food chain in the U.S. The U.S. also banned feed for beef cattle from containing high-risk animal parts.
"Evidence shows that our systems and safeguards to prevent BSE are working, as are similar actions taken by countries around the world. In 2011, there were only 29 worldwide cases of BSE, a dramatic decline and 99% reduction since the peak in 1992 of 37,311 cases. This is directly attributable to the impact and effectiveness of feed bans as a primary control measure for the disease,” Clifford said.
Samples from the animal in question were tested at USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. Results indicate the cow tested positive for a rare “atypical” form of BSE that occurs spontaneously in nature and is usually not due to an animal consuming infected feed. Thus the risk of a widespread contamination is considered low.
"We are sharing our laboratory results with international animal health reference laboratories in Canada and England, which have official World Animal Health (OIE) reference labs. These labs have extensive experience diagnosing atypical BSE and will review our confirmation of this form of the disease,” Clifford said in a USDA release issued today. “In addition, we will be conducting a comprehensive epidemiological investigation in conjunction with California animal and public health officials and the FDA.
BSE is a progressive neurological disease among cattle that is always fatal. It belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Affected animals may display nervousness or aggression, abnormal posture, difficulty in coordination and rising, decreased milk production, or loss of body weight despite continued appetite.
The USDA assures that the food supply is safe. BSE has not been found to be transmitted through milk. However, unlike most food-bourne diseases, BSE cannot be destroyed through cooking. BSE can be transmitted through brain and spinal cord tissue, including foods such as sausages or hot dogs that utilize meat scraped off bones. Cuts such as steaks or roasts are considered low risk. In addition, choosing organic or kosher beef further reduces risk due to slaughterhouse and feeding practices.
This detection of BSE should not affect U.S. trade, according to the USDA.
"USDA remains confident in the health of the national herd and the safety of beef and dairy products,” Clifford concluded. “As the epidemiological investigation progresses, USDA will continue to communicate findings in a timely and transparent manner."