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Reference Desk April 2012

Mad Cow Case Confirmed in California

    USDA Assures Consumers That Existing Safeguards Protected Food Supply

    WASHINGTON, DC, April 24, 2012—U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford today released the following statement on the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States:

    "As part of our targeted surveillance system, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the nation's fourth case of  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 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."

    Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

    AVMA Response to BSE Finding in California Dairy Cow

    SCHAUMBURG, Illinois, April 24, 2012—The American Veterinary Medical Association today released the following statement in response to the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a dairy cow from central California.

    “The finding of this BSE-positive cow is not particularly surprising, and it is certainly no cause for alarm,” said Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “It is not surprising because we have known for several years that there is a very low prevalence of BSE in our nation’s cattle population. USDA has maintained a good, targeted surveillance program for the disease, and it is expected that we might find such cases periodically. 

    “This finding is not cause for alarm because the tissues of any infected cows that pose a food safety risk, i.e., specified risk materials or SRMs, have been kept out of the human food supply since early 2004. What this finding does confirm is that the safeguards put in place by the USDA several years ago are working as they are intended.”

    Dr. DeHaven is a past Administrator of APHIS and was USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer in Dec 2003 when the initial case of BSE was found in the US.

    For more information, please visit, www.avma.org.

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