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California dairy cow tests positive for BSE

BSE case poses no risk to food supply, USDA says

April 25, 2012

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) 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. 

The cow 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, USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford said.

"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", Clifford said.

The United States bans specified risk materials (SRMs) from the food supply as well as all nonambulatory cattle from entering the human food chain. FDA bans on ruminant material in cattle feed prevents the spread of the disease in the cattle herd.

In a statement issued today, Clifford said: "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.

"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."

"The finding of this BSE-positive cow is not particularly surprising, and it is certainly no cause for alarm,"  Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association said. "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, a past Administrator of APHIS and USDA's Chief Veterinary Officer in Dec 2003 when the initial case of BSE was found in the U.S. went on to say.

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