April 24, 2012 [updated May 24, 2012] |A fourth case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States was confirmed on April 24, 2012, in a dairy cow in California. The animal, determined to be 10 years and seven months of age, had been collected from a dairy farm by Baker Commodities for disposal at its rendering plant. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the animal had been humanely euthanized on the farm after it developed lameness and became recumbent. Baker sampled the animal for the disease under USDA’s targeted ongoing surveillance program and it was later confirmed to have an atypical case of BSE, a rare spontaneous form of the disease that is not well understood. World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, laboratories subsequently confirmed the atypical test results. About 60 cases of atypical BSE have been identified worldwide, USDA stated.
The animal’s carcass was destroyed and never presented to slaughter for human consumption or entered the feed system, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human or animal health. USDA and the Food and Drug Administration emphasized that scientific evidence shows BSE cannot be transmitted through cow’s milk and milk products. As part of the investigation, the USDA established the whereabouts of the cow’s offspring from the past two years. One calf was stillborn and the other was located at an unidentified dairy farm in another state, purchased by USDA, euthanized, and tested for BSE, which was confirmed to be negative.
“Evidence shows that our systems and safeguards to prevent BSE are working, as are similar actions taken by countries around the world,” stated USDA Chief Veterinary Office John Clifford. “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. This is directly attributable to the impact and effectiveness of feed bans as a primary control measure for the disease.
“We [the United States] test for BSE at levels 10 times greater than World Organization for Animal Health standards,” he added. “We take samples from approximately 40,000 animals each year, focusing on groups where the disease is more likely to be found. The targeted population for ongoing surveillance includes cattle exhibiting signs of central nervous disorders or signs associated with BSE, nonambulatory animals, and dead cattle. The samples come from locations like farms, veterinary diagnostic laboratories, public health laboratories, slaughter facilities, veterinary clinics, and livestock markets.”
Clifford also pointed out that a mammalian-to-mammalian feed ban in place since 1997 and the removal of specified risk material from slaughtered cattle make it highly unlikely cattle could contract BSE from feed.
Most US international trading partners did not overreact to the news. A delegation from South Korea met with USDA officials, toured the BSE testing laboratory in Ames, IA, and met with state and federal officials in California as reassurance of the safety of US meat products.
However, Indonesia immediately placed a “temporary” ban on imports of US meat and bone meal. The National Renderers Association is working with USDA and other government officials to get this market reopened as soon as possible. Indonesia imported nearly 400,000 metric tons of meat and bone meal in 2011.