Earlier this week, USDA confirmed the identification of a dairy cow in California that was infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. John Clifford, USDA Chief Veterinary Officer, announced that the animal was discovered as part of the agency’s targeted surveillance system.
The carcass of the infected animal is being held under state authority at a rendering plant in California and will be destroyed, Clifford said. It never entered the human food supply, and at no time presented a risk to consumers. Additionally, milk does not transmit BSE, he added.
“Evidence shows that our systems and safeguards to prevent BSE are working, as are similar actions taken by countries around the world,” Clifford said, noting that 2011, there were only 29 cases of BSE worldwide, a 99% reduction since the 1992 peak when more than 37,000 were confirmed.
“This is directly attributable to the impact and effectiveness of feed bans as a primary control measure for the disease,” he said.
Even before the discovery of the first BSE-positive animal in 2003 (although that dairy cow had been born in Canada), the United States had safeguards in place to protect people and animals against BSE. After 2003, those measures were stepped up to include mandatory removal of specified risk materials—mainly the brain tissue and spinal cord—from the food supply; a ban on processing non-ambulatory cattle for human consumption; and an FDA ban on ruminant-derived material being used in cattle feed.
Samples from the latest BSE cow, the fourth domestic confirmation of a U.S. animal with so-called mad cow disease, were tested at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. Interestingly, the results confirmed that the animal was positive for atypical BSE, a rare form of the disease not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed.
The sounds of silence
Thus far, all the official procedures and proclamations have been similar to what has occurred previously—with one gigantic exception: A virtual absence of an emotional overreaction by both anti-industry activists and major media.
What has surfaced instead is a question, technical in nature, about the larger meaning of the discovery—minus the “we’re all going to die” hysteria.
For example, Reuters’ news story wondered whether the BSE discovery was “a validation of a decade-long focused surveillance regime, or a lucky break that highlights the need to revisit previously scrapped efforts for more comprehensive surveillance.”