Mad Cow Reported, USDA Filling in Details

USDA conducts conference over potential case of BSE. More details to follow. Video Q & A added.

Published on: Apr 24, 2012

NOTE: This file has been updated with the statement from USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford - it begins at the end of the story.

In a press call this afternoon, USDA talked through a reported find of an animal infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy - or mad cow - in the United States. Found in a pre-rendering inspection, the animal was found in California.

The animal is a dairy cow from Central California and it is expressing what USDA is calling an "atypical" case of the disease, which means it may not have come from the typical means of transmission. The animal was found in a pre-rendering test at a rendering facility. Its meat did not enter the food chain and the carcass will be destroyed. USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford did not have information about whether the animal was alive when collected by the renderer.

BSE FIND? USDA is conducting an investigation into a detection of a BSE-infected dairy cow that was discovered by a renderer during routine testing.
BSE FIND? USDA is conducting an investigation into a detection of a BSE-infected dairy cow that was discovered by a renderer during routine testing.
USDA is conducting an investigation into the incident and notes that notification of trading partners has begun. However, officials note that this case "should not" impact trade given the current U.S. status under OIE for BSE. However, the United States is in delicate negotiations with the Japanese to raise the acceptable age of animals harvested for export to that country. How this news will impact those talks remains to be seen.

Little detail is available on the dairy cow. The investigation will look into the age of the animal, whether it was dead when collected by the renderer and other details.

Domestic market impact, however, over the rumor has been deeper. Prices fell $3 per hundredweight from the morning nearby contract price for live cattle at $119.90. Markets locked limit down the $3 daily limit in the final 25 minutes of trade.

Adds Farm Futures Market Analyst Arlan Suderman: "The markets were very vulnerable due to a large ownership of live cattle futures by speculative fund managers, who quickly headed to the sideline with the rumor hit."

Feedgrain prices slipped as well, with corn dropping 10 cents and soybeans sliding modestly off multi-year highs set late in the session of $14.67-1/2.

This is the fourth confirmed case of BSE in the United States since the famous "Christmas surprise" of 2003, when an infected cow was found in a Washington dairy, in an animal that had come from Canada.

Chief Clifford's statement follows:


Statement by USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford Regarding a Detection of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States   Assures Consumers That Existing Safeguards Protected Food Supply; Reiterates Safety of Consuming Beef Products  

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2012 – USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford today released the following statement on the detection of BSE in the United States:

"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.

"The United States has had longstanding interlocking safeguards to protect human and animal health against BSE. For public health, these measures include the USDA ban on specified risk materials, or SRMs, from the food supply. SRMs are parts of the animal that are most likely to contain the BSE agent if it is present in an animal. USDA also bans all nonambulatory (sometimes called "downer") cattle from entering the human food chain. For animal health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on ruminant material in cattle feed prevents the spread of the disease in the cattle herd.

"Evidence shows that our systems and safeguards to prevent BSE are working, as are similar actions taken by countries around the world. In 2011, there were only 29 worldwide cases of BSE, a dramatic decline and 99% reduction since the peak in 1992 of 37,311 cases. This is directly attributable to the impact and effectiveness of feed bans as a primary control measure for the disease.

"Samples from the animal in question were tested at USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. Confirmatory results using immunohistochemistry and western blot tests confirmed the animal was positive for atypical BSE, a very rare form of the disease not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed.

"We are sharing our laboratory results with international animal health reference laboratories in Canada and England, which have official World Animal Health (OIE) reference labs. These labs have extensive experience diagnosing atypical BSE and will review our confirmation of this form of the disease. In addition, we will be conducting a comprehensive epidemiological investigation in conjunction with California animal and public health officials and the FDA.

"BSE is a progressive neurological disease among cattle that is always fatal. It belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Affected animals may display nervousness or aggression, abnormal posture, difficulty in coordination and rising, decreased milk production, or loss of body weight despite continued appetite.

"This detection in no way affects the United States' BSE status as determined by the OIE. The United States has in place all of the elements of a system that OIE has determined ensures that beef and beef products are safe for human consumption: a mammalian feed ban, removal of specified risk materials, and vigorous surveillance. Consequently, this detection should not affect U.S. trade.

"USDA remains confident in the health of the national herd and the safety of beef and dairy products. As the epidemiological investigation progresses, USDA will continue to communicate findings in a timely and transparent manner."