THE US Department of Agriculture has announced that an atypical case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) has been found in an eleven-year old cow in Alabama.
The animal never entered the slaughter channel and at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States, the USDA stressed in a statement.
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service testing determined that the cow was positive for atypical (L-type) BSE. The animal was showing clinical signs and was found through routine surveillance at an Alabama livestock market. APHIS and Alabama veterinary officials are gathering more information on the case.
BSE is not contagious and exists in two types – classical and atypical. Classical BSE is the form that occurred primarily in the United Kingdom beginning in the late 1980s, and it has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. The primary source of infection for classical BSE was feed contaminated with the infectious prion agent, such as meat-and-bone meal containing protein derived from rendered infected cattle.
Regulations from the US Food and Drug Administration have prohibited the inclusion of mammalian protein in feed for cattle and other ruminants since 1997 and have also prohibited high risk tissue materials in all animal feed since 2009. Australia was the first country in the world to ban the feeding of animal protein to cattle in the 1980s.
Atypical BSE is different, generally occurring in older cattle. It seems to arise rarely and spontaneously in all cattle populations.
The detection is the fifth known case of BSE in the US. Of the four previous US cases, the first was a case of classical BSE that was in a cow believed to be imported from Canada; the rest have been atypical (H- or L-type) BSE.
The World Organisation for Animal Health has recognised the US as negligible risk for BSE. As noted in the OIE guidelines for determining this status, atypical BSE cases do not impact official BSE risk status recognition as this form of the disease is believed to occur spontaneously in all cattle populations at a very low rate.
“Therefore, this finding of an atypical case will not change the negligible risk status of the United States, and should not lead to any trade issues,” the USDA said in a statement.
The US has a long-standing system of interlocking safeguards against BSE that protects public and animal health, the most important of which 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.
The second safeguard is a feed ban that protects cattle from the disease. Another important component of the US system – which led to this detection – is an ongoing BSE surveillance program that allows USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the US cattle population.
“Bottom line: US beef is safe”
US National Cattlemens Beef Association’s Jimmy Holliman issued a brief statement following the detection.
“It’s important to note that this type of BSE is very different than the classical type of BSE, which occurred mainly in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. BSE is not contagious and the cow announced today posed no risk to human health. The bottom line: all U.S. beef is safe,” Mr Holliman said.
“USDA’s ongoing BSE surveillance program has tested more than one million cattle since the program began. The incidence of BSE in the US is extremely low, and will remain so. The US currently has a ‘Negligible BSE Risk’ status from the OIE – the lowest possible risk in the world,” he said.
“We commend USDA and animal health experts for effectively identifying and controlling the potential risks associated with BSE.”
Atypical cases of BSE occur spontaneously in rare cases around the world. Brazil belatedly reported a case in 2014, and another in late 2012. Australia has never detected a case of BSE, despite routine testing.
Analysts suggest the detection should have very little material impact on domestic or export US beef demand. The last ocurrance of BSE was in April 2012, and the impact in that episode was minimal.
“The worry is that some foreign markets may use this as an excuse to raise barriers,” the Daily Livestock Report said. “US government and trade groups, such as USMEF, have worked hard to clarify the steps US beef industry has taken against BSE.”