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USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer on the Recent BSE Case (aka Mad Cow)

On April 24, USDA confirmed the nation’s 4th case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in an animal that was sampled for the disease at a rendering facility in central California.  This animal was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food and milk supply, or to human health in the United States.

We have a longstanding system of interlocking safeguards against BSE that protects public and animal health in the United States.  The most important is the removal of specified risk materials – or the parts of an animal that would contain BSE should an animal have the disease – from all animals presented for slaughter in the United States. USDA inspectors at slaughter facilities also prevent cattle that are nonambulatory or are displaying signs of neurological disease or central nervous system disorders from entering the human food supply.

A strong feed ban protects cattle from the disease.  In 1997, the FDA implemented regulations that prohibit the feeding of most mammalian proteins to ruminants, including cattle.  This feed ban is the most important measure to prevent the transmission of BSE to cattle.

Scientific evidence shows that the safeguards we and many countries around the world have in place against BSE are highly effective.  Last year, only 29 cases of BSE were detected worldwide.  This is a greater than 99 percent reduction in the number of cases since the height of the disease in 1992.

We found this particular case through our ongoing BSE surveillance program.  The surveillance program allows USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the U.S. cattle population and provides assurances to consumers and our international trading partners that the interlocking system of safeguards in place to prevent BSE are working.

We test for BSE at levels ten times greater than World Animal Health Organization standards.  We take samples from approximately 40,000 animals each year, focusing on groups where the disease is more likely to be found.  The targeted population for ongoing surveillance includes cattle exhibiting signs of central nervous disorders or signs associated with BSE, nonambulatory animals, and dead cattle. The samples come from locations like farms, veterinary diagnostic laboratories, public health laboratories, slaughter facilities, veterinary clinics, and livestock markets.

In this case, the samples came from a rendering facility in California.  The samples were initially sent to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, then on to USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa for further testing.  USDA confirmed the animal was positive for atypical BSE, a very rare form of the disease not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed.  We are reaching out to international laboratories with more experience with this atypical form of BSE to assist us with our investigation.

Our investigation is ongoing.  But here are a few things that we do know for a fact.  It is perfectly safe to eat beef and drink milk without concern for BSE.

The carcass of the animal is being held at a rendering facility in California and will be destroyed. It was never presented for processing for human consumption.  At no time did it present a risk to the food supply.  And scientific research indicates that BSE cannot be transmitted in cow’s milk, even if the milk comes from a cow with BSE.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that tests on milk from BSE- infected animals have not shown any BSE infectivity. Milk and milk products, are, therefore considered safe.

As our investigation progresses and we learn more, we will provide updates.  You can visit our BSE information center at www.usda.gov/BSE to learn the latest and get more details about BSE in general.

9 Responses to “USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer on the Recent BSE Case (aka Mad Cow)”

  1. Susan Gubernick says:

    CFAO’s should be declared illegal – they are inhumane breeding grounds for bacteria and diseses for people and animals and are unnatural and unsustainable. Doing anything less is only rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. All other problems, e-coli/salmonellacontamination, BSE, antibiotic resistant bacteria, obesity, air and water pollution are only a few of the symptoms of this deadly practice. Eliminate the problem, and the symptoms will be eliminated! I will not eat conventionally raised meat and only buy locally raised, free-range fed, organic beef and chicken. I encourage my friends and family to do the same.

  2. Tina Cecil DVM says:

    I suscribe to these email notices yet I first about this on the nightly news on TV. I feel blindsided

  3. Susan E Blackburn DVM says:

    BSE atypical case.
    Can you send info when you have more information about the origin of this atypical case, and how the infection occured?
    TIA

  4. A.F. Hentschl, DVM says:

    In this DVM’s opinion it’s important to identify when BSE is identified that it be noted whether it is of the spontaneous variety or the variant form which originates from consumption of adulterated feed containing affected CNS material.

  5. A.F. Hentschl, DVM says:

    Seemingly it would be wise to categorize BSE when it is identified. That is, when a case is confirmed, report whether it’s a case of spontaneous BSE or variant ie vBSE which would have resulted from the consumption of feed adulterated with prion containing CNS tissue. Such information supports the safeguards in place to “prevent” vBSE.

  6. Rebecca [USDA Moderator] says:

    @Susan Blackburn – I just checked your name in our blog subscription database and don’t see it – please sign up again in the upper right hand corner of this page to get the most up-to-date info!

    Thanks, Rebecca Frank

  7. O L Edwards DVM says:

    firstly what is the incubation period 2-8years,?is it definitive that neighbouring cattle from farms or the same farm never got into the food chain. How do you know this for definete?
    Were clinical signs presented, what is atypical and where and how is it contracted?

  8. Steve Roach says:

    The statement that US rules require the removal of “the parts of an animal that would contain BSE should an animal have the disease – from all animals presented for slaughter in the United States” is inaccurate. The FDA decided that requiring the removal of all parts would be too expensive for industry so the rule allows 10% of the tissues that would have BSE to included in animal feed. This is disturbing given that BSE is infective at very low doses. Finally in the US cattle can be fed and are fed ruminant protein every day in the form of recycled poultry litter which FDA also decided to allow when it tightened rules in 2008. Finally the USDA testing program is not designed to identify BSE infected cattle and remove them from the food supply but is instead a sampling program to make sure not too many BSE cattle enter the food supply. It would be helpful for the USDA to explain to the public what proportion of BSE cases they are actually likely to detect with sampling at the current level.

  9. B. A. H. says:

    I have a problem with the protocol the USDA utilized to release this recent information or rather the lack of it. It has come to my attention that this news was released to certain entities via email prior to announcing it to the public at large. Which resulted in a collapse of the Live Cattle and Feeder Cattle markets. Very bad decision on someone’s part at the USDA. In the past a news release on the USDA website which notified the public of a “suspect” was placed on your website with a notice of a news release containing details to follow at a specific time. This release amounted to a leak with a hasty attempt to throw something up on your website-very poorly handled in my opinion. Establish a protocol and USE IT.

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