The US Department of Agriculture – USDA – has reported the country’s fourth case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy – BSE – in a Californian dairy cow, but stressed the outbreak was contained and no meat had entered the food chain.
The first reported BSE case in North America was in December 1993 from Alberta, Canada.
Canadian Agricultural Authorities reported another case reported in May 2003. The first known U.S. occurrence of BSE came in December of the same year though it was later confirmed that it was a cow of Canadian origin and imported to the U.S. Canada announced two additional cases of BSE from Alberta in early 2005.
In June 2005 Dr. John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for the United States Department of Agriculture animal health inspection service, confirmed a fully domestic case of BSE in Texas. Dr. Clifford would not identify the ranch, calling that “privileged information”. The 2005 US BSE case caused the nation’s beef exports to drop by nearly $3 billion the following year. BSE cannot be transmitted through milk.
This latest case of BSE was found in a dairy cow on April 23, in California during a planned Agriculture Department surveillance program. United States health authorities were quick to point out that the animal was never a threat to the nation’s food supply and claim that this is an atypical case of BSE caused by “just a random mutation that can happen every once in a great while in an animal” ::::
“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,” agriculture department officials said.
Samples from the infected animal were sent to a laboratory in Ames, Iowa, where they proved positive for a rare form of the disease. The results are being shared with labs in Britain and Canada.
The admission of even a limited outbreak is highly sensitive; previous cases of mad cow in the US, Canada, Israel, Europe and Japan have caused disruptions to the global food trade worth billions of dollars.
A stream of sanctions and restrictions were introduced and in some cases and entire herds of cattle had to be slaughtered, destroying the livelihoods of many farmers.
‘US beef is safe’
“The most important message is that US beef is safe,” said Philip Seng, US Meat Export Federation.
According to the organisation, US beef exports are worth more than $342 million each month, with Mexico, Canada, South Korea and Japan among the main export markets.
The United States has an estimated 90.8 million head of cattle, forming a large chunk of the economy in states like Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and California. Around 40,000 US cattle are tested by the Department of Agriculture each year.
More than 190,000 cases of mad cow disease have been detected in the European Union since it was first diagnosed in Britain in 1986, forcing the destruction of millions of cows.
More than 200 people around the world are suspected to have died, most of them in Britain, from the human variant of the disease, which was first described in 1996.
Scientists believe the disease was caused by using infected parts of cattle to make feed for other cattle.
Authorities believe eating meat from infected animals can trigger the human variant of the fatal brain-wasting disease.