A beef cow from Alabama has tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the USDA reported Monday.

It is the third animal in the U.S. to test positive for BSE since December 2003. The first was a Canadian-born dairy cow in WashingtonState. The second was an American-born beef cow in Texas.

USDA chief veterinary officer John Clifford said it is too early to tell where the current animal was born. He said the animal has been at the Alabama farm for less than a year.

Clifford said it is an older animal ― “quite possibly upwards of 10 years of age.” That means the animal may have been born prior to the Food and Drug Administration’s ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban in 1997.

The animal was confirmed positive by the Western blot test, following an inconclusive result on a routine screening test. Results of a second confirmatory test will be released later this week, but Clifford said a positive result on the Western blot test is enough for the USDA to consider the cow positive for BSE.

He emphasized Monday that the cow never entered the human-food or animal-feed supply chains.

“I want to emphasize that human and animal health in the United States are protected by a system of interlocking safeguards, and that we remain very confident in the safety of U.S. beef,” he said.