Will BSE give animal agriculture another black eye?

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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.”

By the end of the trading day, the live cattle futures market was down the trading limit, but in the overnight session, substantial gains are being made to erase the earlier bearish price action.  With livestock producers besieged by the 2011 drought, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association quickly reminded the public about its public protection activities in the case of BSE, “The U.S. beef community has collaborated with and worked with animal health experts and government to put in place multiple interlocking safeguards over the past two decades to prevent BSE from taking hold in the United States.”  NCBA said the surveillance program tests 40,000 high risk animals annually, and BSE is fast approaching eradication worldwide. 

Summary:
The fourth case of BSE has been found in the US, but through the normal inspection system, and that is not a flagrant foul.  Nevertheless, consumer groups, particularly those which are anti-livestock, will generate their public relations machinery.  Subsequently, USDA and NCBA have tried to jump out front of the issue.

Source: FarmGate Blog


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