USDA has confirmed a case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a 6-year-old mixed bred cow in Florida.
The case was detected as part of routine surveillance of cattle that are deemed unsuitable for slaughter. The neurological disease is not contagious and the animal never entered slaughter channels or presented a risk to the food supply or human health, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said on Wednesday.
The distinction of “atypical” is an important one. A case of atypical BSE — which generally occurs spontaneously but rarely in older cattle — won’t change the official negligible risk status of the U.S. under World Organization for Animal Health guidelines.
Atypical BSE is believed to occur spontaneously in all cattle populations at a very low rate.
The “classical” type of BSE, which occurred primarily in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people.
The first and only case of classical BSE in the U.S. was found in December 2003 in a dairy cow in Washington state that had been imported from Canada — dubbed the “cow that stole Christmas.”
The detection caused U.S. beef exports to plummet overnight. Those exports went from $3.86 billion in 2003 to $809 million in 2004, a drop of 79 percent. Some markets reopened fairly quickly but U.S. exports were still less than $1 billion in 2005, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
But China — a $2.6 billion market in 2016 — lifted its ban on U.S. beef only last year.
USMEF does not anticipate any disruptions in trade as a result of the atypical BSE case in Florida, Joe Schuele, UMEF vice president of communications, told Capital Press.
“But our international staff is monitoring the situation and is prepared to address any questions from importers or other purchasers of U.S. beef,” he said.
The atypical form of BSE identified in this case is very different from classical BSE, Kathy Simmons, chief veterinarian at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said.
“These cases occur very rarely in cattle populations and are not the result of contaminated feedstuffs,” she said.
The World Organization for Animal Health has determined the United States is a negligible BSE risk, the lowest possible risk in the world, she said.
“USDA’s interlocking safeguards continue to protect the U.S. food supply chain, and findings such as these prove the system is working. Consumers can rest assured that the U.S. continues to be the global leader in the production of safe and wholesome high-quality beef,” she said.
The primary source of infection for classical BSE is feed contaminated with the infectious prion agent, such as meat-and-bone meal containing protein derived from rendered infected cattle.
FDA regulations have prohibited the inclusion of mammalian protein in feed for cattle and other ruminants in the U.S. since 1997 and have also prohibited high-risk tissue materials in all animal feed since 2009.
The Florida case is the sixth detection of BSE in U.S. Of the five previous U.S. cases, the first, in 2003, was a case of classical BSE; the rest have been atypical BSE.