The sixth case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, during the past 15 years in the United States has been identified in a 6-year-old mixed breed beef cow in Florida. The positive test for so-called Mad Cow Disease comes six years after the most recent in 2012 at Hanford, CA.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture calmed public fears about the discovery with assurances the animal never entered the human food supply and did not threaten human health in any other way. The atypical case of BSE is unlikely to cause U.S. producers to lose any international cattle markets.

The U.S. has experienced only one case of classical BSE. That was in 2003.  It is classical BSE, such as occurred in the United Kingdom a generation ago when Mad Cow Disease was linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or cCJD, the prion disease in people.

The Florida cow was found unsuitable for slaughter during routine surveillance and then submitted to Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Fort Collins, CO for more specific BSE testing. Both USDA’s Animal and Plant Health inspection Service (APHIS) and Florida’s veterinary officials are continuing to gather background information on the case.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OEI) usually finds an atypical BSE case does not change a country’s BSE risk status. The reason is that atypical BSE is believed to occur spontaneously in domestic cattle herds throughout the world. “Therefore, this finding of an atypical case will not change the negligible risk status of the United States, and should not lead to any trade issues,” according to a USDA statement.

The only classic case of BSE recorded in the U.S. involved a cow that was imported from Canada in 2003. That did result in the loss of some foreign cattle markets for several years. Meat-and-bone feed with protein from rendered infected cattle — which is now banned — likely helped speed classic BSE.

This is the nation’s sixth detection of BSE since that classic 2003 case. The five subsequent BSE cases in the U.S. were atypical cases.

The United States has a longstanding system of interlocking safeguards against BSE. The first safeguard protects public and animal health in the United States, the most important of which is the removal of specified risk materials — or the parts of an animal that would contain BSE if an animal had the disease — from all animals presented for slaughter. The second safeguard is a strong feed ban that protects cattle from the disease. Another important component of the U.S. system — which led to this detection — is the ongoing BSE surveillance and testing program that allows USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the U.S. cattle population.

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