A dairy cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has been detected in California, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture announcement on Tuesday.

The cow was found in a rendering facility in central California. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the cow tested positive at a transfer facility in Hanford, 15 miles west of Visalia in Kings County, operated by Baker Commodities.

Although details about the age and origins of the animal are being withheld pending further investigation, the National Milk Producers Federation offered the following points on the issue:

  • Milk and dairy products do not contain or transmit BSE, and animals do not transmit the disease through cattle-to-human contact. The infectious prions that transmit BSE are found in neurological tissues, such as brains and spinal cords.
  • The United States put regulations in place in 1997 to prohibit ruminant protein from being used in animal feed. This applies to all cattle, dairy and beef alike.
  • Non-ambulatory animals ― those that cannot walk ― are not allowed to be processed at facilities where meat animals are handled. This regulation helps ensure that animals that are unwell are not entered into the food supply.

However, the current case in California may not fit the typical mold.

“Our laboratory confirmed the findings and also indicated it was an atypical form of BSE, which is a rare form of the disease,” said USDA chief veterinarian John Clifford on Tuesday. “It is not likely to be attributable to infected feed, which is the method in which normally BSE is spread from cow to cow,” he said.

"This particular animal did not enter the food supply at any time," Clifford added.

For more background on BSE and the dairy sector, visit the NMPF web site.

The USDA also has a frequently-asked-questions section on BSE. Click here.