Updated from original version published 25/4
The United States has confirmed that a dairy cow in a Californian rendering plant has tested positive to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the country’s first case of the disease for six years.
The US Department of Agriculture has issued assurances that no part of the animal’s carcase has entered the food supply, and at no time has it presented a risk to human health.
The infected cow was found as part of a USDA surveillance program that tests about 40,000 cattle a year for the fatal brain disease. The cow was infected by an "atypical" form of the disease, the agency has confirmed, which is not associated with an animal consuming infected feed.
“It’s just a random mutation that can happen every once in a great while in an animal," Bruce Akey, director of the New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University, explained to the media.
The USDA said notification of trading partners had begun, but believed the case should not impact on trade given the current US status under World Health Organisation (OIE) rules for BSE.
Two of the US’s major export customers – Canada and Mexico – have already stated that the discovery will not affect trade between their countries.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said both countries have implemented science based measures to protect animal and human health, and noted US assurances that no part of the animal had entered the food system.
The US’s largest beef export market, Mexico, has also confirmed to the media that it has no plans to stop beef trade with the US.
"Cases of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) occur occasionally," Mexico's agriculture ministry said in a statement. "These cases have appeared in different places around the world and don't affect trade between countries."
International trade reaction
However the Bloomberg news agency has reported that trade with South Korea and Japan could be affected.
“South Korea will halt customs clearance of any new US beef imports, Park Sang Ho, an official at South Korea’s farm ministry, said by phone,” the US-based news agency reported today.
“Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is checking on the reported case and will comment later today, Daisuke Tsukamoto, an official at the ministry’s animal health department, said by phone.”
Two major South Korean retailers have unilaterially decided to suspend sales of US beef.
Home Plus and Lotte Mart, the country's second and third largest supermarket chains, said on Wednesday they have 'temporarily' halted sales of US beef to calm worries among South Koreans.
"We stopped sales from today," a Lotte Mart spokesman said. "Not that there were any quality issues in the meat but because consumers are worried."
Market leader E-Mart said it hadn't pulled US beef from its shelves yet, and and is waiting for the government's response.
South Korean agriculture officials are considering whether to formally suspend delivery of US beef to stores by halting quarantine inspections, which would prevent the meat from clearing customs.
US meat industry news website Meatingplace.com reported this morning, Australian time, that Korean Ministry of Agriculture officials have announced that their government is seeking to implement emergency measures, including tightening of quarantine checks on US beef imports, but a formal embargo was unlikely.
Quoting US Meat Export Federation spokesman Joe Schuele, Meatingplace reported that rumours that Korea had halted US beef inspections were inaccurate.
“They have enhanced quarantine checks until they get more information from USDA,” he said.
In 2011, South Korea was the fourth largest market for U.S. beef, importing over 150,000 metric tons of beef and beef variety meats worth nearly $700 million, according to USMEF statistics
In Japan, national beef bowl restaurant chain restaurant Yoshinoya's stock market price plunged immediately following the news of BSE being found in the US.
US live cattle futures recorded their biggest fall in seven months following news of the discovery, falling by 2.5pc before rebounding slightly by 0.5pc.
One trader told the Bloomberg news service the development had sparked fears that US beef sales would be impacted, and may disrupt Japanese plans to relax age restrictions applied to US beef imports in the wake of its first BSE discovery in December 2003.
That event triggered bans on US beef imports by major customers including Japan and South Korea, and resulted in devastating market impacts for US beef producers.
Markets have gradually re-opened but Japan has maintained tight restrictions, limiting imports from the US to beef from cattle under the age of 20 months. The US has been expecting Japan to increase that limit to 30 months of age this year.
“An outbreak of BSE disease will keep putting downward pressure on the market. This will keep buyers, including Japan, from easing trade curbs on U.S. beef imports,” Hiroyuki Kikukawa, general manager of research at IDO Securities Co told Bloomberg.
Another analyst told Reuters News that a major impact to US trade was unlikely.
"My feeling is there won't be a big reaction and if they do they'll go with an age restriction like the Japanese do," Dennis Smith, an analyst with Archer Financial, said.
JBS,the world's biggest beef producer, issued a statement to investors this afternoon saying the company was confident that US beef exports would not be affected and that the discovery would not set back Japan's intention to relax rules on imports. It remained confident that the discovery would not jeopardise its business.
"The controls that have been implemented through OIE regulation as well as within each country's inspection service since the BSE outbreaks of more than a decade ago are such that the risks of the past do not exist anymore.The separation of SRM (Specified Risk Materials) protects product entering the food chain, guaranteeing nutritious and healthy beef to consumers," JBS told investors.
"The general consensus is that international trade should not suffer any material disruption as a result of this incident bearing in mind that the sanitary status of the US rated by the OIE remains unchanged and that international sanitary agreements contemplate isolated incidents such as the one in question insufficient to cause any trade disruption."
- The US Centre for Biotechnology Information provides a detailed discussion paper about atypical cases of BSE, and the possible implications. Click here to view.
The USDA issued the following statement last night Australian-time:
Statement by USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford Regarding a Detection of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States
Assures Consumers That Existing Safeguards Protected Food Supply; Reiterates Safety of Consuming Beef Products
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2012 – USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford today released the following statement on the detection of BSE in the United States:
"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 fromthe animal in question were tested at USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. Confirmatory results using immunohistochemistry 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.
"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. 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.
"This detection in no way affects the United States' BSE status as determined by the OIE. The United States has in place all of the elements of a system that OIE has determined ensures that beef and beef products are safe for human consumption: a mammalian feed ban, removal of specified risk materials, and vigorous surveillance. Consequently, this detection should not affect U.S. trade.
"USDA remains confident in the health of the national herd and the safety of beef and dairy products. As the epidemiological investigation progresses, USDA will continue to communicate findings in a timely and transparent manner."