USDA confirms case of BSE in California, but food supply was not at risk
The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week said a dairy cow at a rendering facility in central California was found to be infected with mad cow disease.
As part of the agency's targeted surveillance system, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed the nation's fourth case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. It's the first such finding since 2006 in the U.S.
Agency officials said no meat from the animal entered the human food supply and that at no time did the animal present a risk to the food supply or human health, according to USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford.
Additionally, milk does not transmit BSE, he said in a statement, and the animal carcass will be destroyed.
"USDA remains confident in the health of the national herd and the safety of beef and dairy products," Clifford said, noting that the age and the exact birthplace of the animal were being investigated.
Determining the history of the diseased animal and how the cow acquired the disease will be key in ensuring no other cases of mad cow disease are found, said Jeffrey T. LeJeune, a professor with OSU's Food and Animal Health Research Program.
LeJeune, who is an expert in food safety, said the finding is "surprising," given the extreme rarity of the disease and the current safeguards in place to prevent the disease in the US. While the finding may be a cause of concern, consumers were never at risk, and the fact that the disease was found can be reassuring in that the monitoring programs were working, he said.
"It's a good sign that the screening program is working," LeJeune said. "Our beef supply is still among the safest in the world. This finding is surprising, but at the same time, it is premature to say how this happened until the investigation is finished."
LeJeune said that while consumers may be concerned when they hear the words "mad cow," they should be reassured because of the safeguards in place to ensure food safety. The animal in question was never destined to enter the food chain.
"There are mechanisms in place to prevent any animal that may have this disease from entering into the food chain," he said. "Anything like this is going to raise concern, but you can reassure consumers that we're on top of this and are monitoring things to ensure that it doesn’t get into the food supply."
In 2011, there were only 29 worldwide cases of BSE, a dramatic decline and 99-percent reduction since the peak in 1992 of 37,311 cases, according to Clifford.
"This is directly attributable to the impact and effectiveness of feed bans as a primary control measure for the disease," he said in a statement.
Ohio State University veterinarians and food-animal health experts, including LeJeune, are available to speak about the fourth case of mad cow disease confirmed in the U.S. They can also talk about the tests currently used to detect the disease.
* Mo Saif, chair of the Food Animal Health Research Program, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, 330-263-3743, 419-846-3011, firstname.lastname@example.org
* William Shulaw, Ohio State University Extension beef/sheep veterinarian, 614-292-7570, 614-771-0557, email@example.com
* Jeffrey T. LeJeune, a microbiologist with the Food Animal Health Research Program, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, 330-263-3739, firstname.lastname@example.org