On Monday, Australia lifted its nine-year ban on imported meat from countries where cows had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “Mad Cow” disease. While it will be several months before imported beef products will reach grocery store shelves in Australia, shoppers could have access to such products within six months.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is prepared to accept applications from countries seeking to export their beef to the region. Once the application is received, it will take a minimum of 20 weeks for each application to be assessed.
FSANZ has not yet received any applications for export.
Under the new protocol Australia will be accepting imports of muscle meat–no brains or spinal cords of animals will be allowed into the country. Humans can become infected with BSE if they eat pieces of the brains or spinal cords of infected animals.
Companies that apply for export privileges may be subjected to in-country inspection of their processing facility. They will also be subjected to stringent traceability standards that are equivalent to or better than Australia’s, and all meat products will have to be cleared by Biosecurity Australia.
Beef from the U.S. and United Kingdom reportedly do not meet Australia’s requirements; Japan is rumored to be considering an application.
BSE is a chronic degenerative nervous system disease affecting cattle. The disease was first diagnosed in 1986 in Great Britain. BSE is so named because of the spongy appearance of the brain tissue of infected cattle when sections are examined under a microscope.
Affected animals may display changes in temperament, such as nervousness or aggression, abnormal posture and difficulty in rising, decreased milk production, or loss of body weight despite continued appetite. Affected cattle die or are killed.
The incubation period (the time from when an animal becomes infected until it first shows signs of disease) is from 2 to 8 years. Following the onset of clinical signs, the animal’s condition deteriorates until it dies. This process usually takes from 2 weeks to 6 months.
Currently, there is no test to detect the disease in a live animal; veterinary pathologists confirm BSE by postmortem microscopic examination of brain tissue or by the detection of the abnormal form of the prion protein.