On March 13, 2006 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that a cow on an Alabama farm tested positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow disease.” This represents the third confirmed case of BSE in the U.S. The first case was in December, 2003 in a cow imported from Canada. The second case which occurred in Texas in June, 2005, was the first case of BSE in a U.S.-born cow.
The USDA has confirmed that the cow did not enter the human food supply or animal feed chains. When it was found that the cow in Alabama could not walk, it was euthanized and buried. As per government protocol, samples of the animal were then sent to a USDA-contracted laboratory at the University of Georgia where further testing yielded inconclusive results. Follow-up analysis conducted at the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa eventually returned a positive result using the Western blot test.
People who eat BSE-contaminated meat are potentially at risk of developing the human form of the disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Mad cow in animals and vCJD in humans result in very serious neurological symptoms and death. There exists no available treatment for these diseases. However, since the meat of this cow did not enter the food supply, there was no risk of people contracting the disease.
Since this particular cow was older, estimated at perhaps 10 years or more, it is likely that it was born prior to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 1997 ban on ruminant-to-ruminant feeding practices. The federal government banned this practice, whereby slaughtered animal remains would be grounded and fed back to other cows. The practice was stopped when it was discovered that feed contaminated with BSE was a significant mode of transmission. The USDA is currently working with Alabama health officials on an epidemiological investigation focused on the herd of origin. The USDA will also work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine any relevant feed history.
Although USDA investigations are ongoing, Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford sought to remind the public of U.S. BSE-surveillance and safety measures. “I want to emphasize that human and animal health in the United States are protected by a system of interlocking safeguards, and that we remain very confident in the safety of U.S. beef,” said Dr. Clifford. “By any measure, the incidence of BSE in this country is extremely low. Our enhanced surveillance program was designed as a one-time snapshot to provide information about the level of prevalence of BSE in the United States.”
The National Hemophilia Foundation will continue to monitor this situation and will report any significant developments. To read the compete USDA statement go to www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2006/03/bsestatement3-13-06_vs.shtml
Source: USDA statement dated March 13, 2006