USDA says mad cow case in Alabama is 'atypical' and not risky

Ivan Schwartz
July 19, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed an "atypical" case of bovine spongiform encephalopothy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, in an 11-year old beef cow in Alabama but emphasized that the animal never entered the slaughterhouse and "at no time presented a risk to food supply or to human health".

The non-scientific name for BSE is mad cow disease, a prion disease that reached epidemic levels in Great Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s. South Koreans are sensitive mad cow disease, which led to nationwide protests against US beef import in 2008.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service testing determined that the cow was positive for atypical (L-type) BSE. Another important component of the U.S. 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 USA cattle population. The agriculture ministry explained that unlike classical BSE that can spread through contaminated feed, naturally occurring atypical BSE is identified very rarely in older cattle and is evaluated as posing less risk by the World Organization for Animal Health.

According to a news release from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, the sick animal was discovered during routine surveillance at an Alabama livestock market. "The response to this case by USDA officials and our department's professionals led by State Veterinarian Dr".

The USDA said atypical BSE is different from the classical version of the disease, which has been linked to a universally fatal brain disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people. BSE is not contagious.

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Classical BSE may occur when cows are fed with products that contain spinal and brain tissues from other bovine animals.

Japan has previously taken measures to prevent the entry of BSE from the USA and as this case is atypical, there's no need to take additional action, Yosuke Yamaki, deputy director at the agriculture ministry's animal health division, said by phone. The other BSE cases have been atypical (H- or L-type). "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 classical form of BSE broke out in the country in 2003 when a cow brought from Canada to Washington was diagnosed with the disease.

"The second safeguard is a strong feed ban that protects cattle from the disease". Brazil belatedly reported a case in 2014, and another in late 2012. "Another important component of our system - which led to this detection - is our ongoing BSE surveillance program that allows USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the US cattle population". Currently, U.S. beef that can be imported to Korea is restricted to cattle younger than 30 months with specified risk materials (SRM) removed in the slaughtering process, it added.

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