The discovery of BSE in a California dairy cow has been confirmed by USDA. Following that announcement on April 24, the futures market for live cattle futures ended the trading day locked limit down, and cattle organizations launched their crisis communication plans, reporting the meat and milk supplies were safe. It was bound to happen, and once again agriculture faces a challenge.
Instantly the USDA issued comments from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack beginning with, ““The beef and dairy in the American food supply is safe and USDA remains confident in the health of U.S. cattle. The systems and safeguards in place to protect animal and human health worked as planned to identify this case quickly, and will ensure that it presents no risk to the food supply or to human health. USDA has no reason to believe that any other U.S. animals are currently affected, but we will remain vigilant and committed to the safeguards in place.”
While the news release said nothing about the animal in question, the front page of the USDA website displayed a “USDA BSE information center” answering questions the general public and others might have about bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
The initial announcement came from Chief USDA veterinarian Dr. John Clifford, who provided limited details, but began by pointing to the detection system doing its job, “As part of our targeted surveillance system, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has 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. It 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.”
Before discussing the case at hand, Clifford said BSE was only discovered 29 times globally in 2011, following a peak of more than 37 thousand in 1992. He attributed the reduction to the growing ban on feed that contained animal proteins. Clifford said the information was shared with the World Animal Health organization, and because of the measures in place to protect the US food supply, he did not anticipate any change in the US status among global meat buyers. That is an important issue because of the substantial amount of beef being exported, keeping prices up in the wake of dismal domestic demand. The animal in question was not destined for either domestic or global meat consumption, and Clifford quickly said, “(The animal) at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health.”