To the cattle industry, an outbreak of mad cow disease is an ever-looming nightmare. In the 1980s and '90s, the brain disorder infected 180,000 livestock in Europe and claimed dozens of human lives, devastating the British cattle industry. Britain, the United States and most other major cattle-producing nations have imposed stringent measures to control the disease, but another outbreak is a very real possibility. The report today represents one infected cow, and the USDA assures consumers that there are existing safeguards to protect beef products.
USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford today released the following statement on the detection of BSE in the United States. The exact location in California of the dairy cow was not disclosed.
"As part of our targeted surveillance system, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the nation's fourth case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a dairy cow from central California. 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.
"The United States has had longstanding interlocking safeguards to protect human and animal health against BSE. For public health, these measures include the USDA ban on specified risk materials, or SRMs, from the food supply. SRMs are parts of the animal that are most likely to contain the BSE agent if it is present in an animal. USDA also bans all nonambulatory (sometimes called "downer") cattle from entering the human food chain. For animal health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on ruminant material in cattle feed prevents the spread of the disease in the cattle herd.
"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.
"Samples from the animal in question were tested at USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. Confirmatory results using immunohisto chemistry and western blot tests confirmed the animal was positive for atypical BSE, a very rare form of the disease not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed.What is Mad Cow Disease?
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a fatal brain disorder that occurs in cattle and is caused by some unknown agent. In BSE, the unknown agent causes the cow's brain cells to die, forming sponge-like holes in the brain. The cow behaves strangely and eventually dies. The connection between BSE and humans was uncovered in Great Britain in the 1990s when several young people died of a human brain disorder, a new variation of a rare brain disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which typically strikes elderly people. The new variation was called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), was similar to BSE.