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California Cow with BSE (Mad Cow Disease) Does Not Pose a Threat to the Food Supply

On April 24, 2012, it was announced that the fourth U.S. cow tested positive for BSE.  In truth, the first U. S. cow, which was imported from Canada, had “typical” BSE, which was identified in the United Kingdom and has been present in both Europe and Japan, and to a lesser extent in Canada.  The two previous U. S. cattle were actually atypical, as was the one identified this week.


Although scientifically less is known about the etiology or causation of atypical BSE, what is known is it is not acquired the same way as the typical BSE (from consuming infected feed containing the brain or other Specified Risk Materials from an infected animal), nor does it seem to present the same danger, even if consumed.  No animal slaughtered in the United States for human or animal feed can contain Specified Risk Material, which is where the prion (not bacteria or virus) can be found.  This includes the brain, the tonsils, and parts of the intestine, as well as the spinal cord.  

This fourth cow from California was found during the routine surveillance of USDA, APHIS (Animal Plant and Health Service).  This cow was presented for slaughter in an ambulatory fashion (not a “downer”) and was to be incorporated in pet food, but again, none of the Specified Risk Materials would have been included in the pet foods.

There is no evidence that non-ruminant animals actually get BSE; however, there are quite a few ruminants that humans consume other than cattle – including buffalo, sheep, goat, and elk.  The human form of BSE is new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) which is highly and actively looked for in the United States through a variety of modalities, including biological materials sent to the National Prion Disease Surveillance Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Since they started actively looking for vCJD, which would have been from cow, three cases in the United States were identified with none having their exposure to U. S. beef.  Their risk factors were two from the United Kingdom and one from Saudi Arabia, who most likely had exposure in the UK and/or the EU.


The U. S. has worked very hard to try to assure not only its citizens, but also its trading partners around the world, that due to excellent decision making in the 1980s with regard to the importation of cattle and bone meal, as well as later on in the discontinuation of feeding any of the Specified Risk Materials to cattle or other food animals and embarking on an intensive surveillance program, that the United States, in effect, is free from BSE and should not be worrisome to the American consumer nor our trading partners around the world.

The bottom line is that this cow does not pose a food safety issue.  One can only hope that the news media will not make more out of this and, if they want to increase food safety awareness and prevent foodborne diseases, they will do stories on cooking ground beef to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and don’t cross-contaminate between raw and ready-to-eat burgers or poultry and, of course, frequent handwashing.  


Melvin N. Kramer, Ph.D., M.P.H., is president of EHA Consulting Group, Inc.  

© Food Safety News
  • Seven main threats for the future linked to prions
    The NeuroPrion network has identified seven main threats for the future linked to prions.
    First threat
    The TSE road map defining the evolution of European policy for protection against prion diseases is based on a certain numbers of hypotheses some of which may turn out to be erroneous. In particular, a form of BSE (called atypical Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), recently identified by systematic testing in aged cattle without clinical signs, may be the origin of classical BSE and thus potentially constitute a reservoir, which may be impossible to eradicate if a sporadic origin is confirmed. Also, a link is suspected between atypical BSE and some apparently sporadic cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. These atypical BSE cases constitute an unforeseen first threat that could sharply modify the European approach to prion diseases.
    Second threat
    In small ruminants, a new atypical form of scrapie currently represents up to 50% of detected cases and even involves sheep selected for resistance to classical scrapie. The consequences for animal and human health are still unknown and there may be a potential connection with atypical BSE. These atypical scrapie cases constitute a second threat not envisioned previously which could deeply modify the European approach to prion diseases.
    Third threat
    The species barrier between human and cattle might be weaker than previously expected and the risk of transmission of prion diseases between different species has been notoriously unpredictable. The emergence of new atypical strains in cattle and sheep together with the spread of chronic wasting disease in cervids renders the understanding of the species barrier critical. This constitutes a third threat not properly envisioned previously that could deeply modify the European approach to prion diseases.
    Fourth threat
    Prion infectivity has now been detected in blood, urine and milk and this has potential consequences on risk assessments for the environment and food as well as for contamination of surfaces including medical instruments. Furthermore the procedures recommended for decontamination of MBM (Meat and Bone Meal), which are based on older methodologies not designed for this purpose, have turned out to be of very limited efficacy and compromise current policies concerning the reuse of these high value protein supplements (cross-contamination of feed circuits are difficult to control). It should be noted that the destruction or very limited use of MBM is estimated to still cost 1 billion euros per year to the European economy, whereas other countries, including the US, Brazil, and Argentine do not have these constraints. However, many uncertainties remain concerning the guarantees that can be reasonably provided for food and feed safety and scientific knowledge about the causative agents (prions) will continue to evolve. This decontamination and environmental issue is a fourth threat that could modify deeply the European approach to prion diseases.
    Fifth threat
    The precise nature of prions remains elusive. Very recent data indicate that abnormal prion protein (PrPTSE) can be generated from the brains of normal animals, and under some conditions (including contaminated waste water) PrPTSE can be destroyed whereas the BSE infectious titre remains almost unchanged, a finding that underlines the possibility of having BSE without any detectable diagnostic marker. These are just two areas of our incomplete knowledge of the fundamental biology of prions which constitute a fifth threat to the European approach to prion diseases.
    Sixth threat
    The absence of common methods and standardisation in the evaluation of multiple in vivo models with different prion strains and different transgenic mice expressing PrP from different species (different genotypes of cattle, sheep, cervids, etc) renders a complete and comprehensive analysis of all the data generated by the different scientific groups almost impossible. This deeply impairs risk assessment. Moreover, the possibility of generating PrPTSE de novo with new powerful techniques has raised serious questions about their appropriateness for use as blood screening tests. The confusion about an incorrect interpretation of positive results obtained by these methods constitutes a sixth threat to European approach to prion diseases.
    Seventh Threat
    The detection of new or re-emerging prion diseases in animals or humans which could lead to a new crisis in consumer confidence over the relaxation of precautionary measures and surveillance programmes constitutes a seventh threat that could modify the European approach to prion diseases.
    ***Oral Transmission of L-type Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in Primate Model
    ***Infectivity in skeletal muscle of BASE-infected cattle
    ***feedstuffs- It also suggests a similar cause or source for atypical BSE in these countries.
    ***Also, a link is suspected between atypical BSE and some apparently sporadic cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
    full text ;
    atypical L-type BASE BSE
    Tuesday, May 1, 2012
    BSE MAD COW LETTERS TO USDA (Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture) and FDA (Magaret Hamburg, Commissioner of FDA) May 1, 2012
    Wednesday, May 2, 2012
    Friday, May 4, 2012
    May 2, 2012: Update from APHIS Regarding a Detection of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States
    Sunday, March 11, 2012
    APHIS Proposes New Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Import Regulations in Line with International Animal Health Standards Proposal Aims to Ensure Health of the U.S. Beef Herd, Assist in Negotiations
    Wednesday, April 4, 2012
    Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy; Importation of Bovines and Bovine Products APHIS-2008-0010-0008 RIN:0579-AC68
    Saturday, March 5, 2011
    Sunday, February 12, 2012
    National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center Cases Examined1 (August 19, 2011) including Texas
    kind regards, terry
    Wednesday, March 28, 2012
    kind regards,

  • spes

    Just a correction: it was diagnosed with “atypical” BSE