A case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was announced Aug. 29 by the USDA. The disease was found in a 6-year-old mixed-breed beef cow in Florida. The animal never entered slaughter channels and at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is working closely with USDA regarding the case. “This detection shows just how well our surveillance system works. We’re grateful to our partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who work alongside us day in and day out to conduct routine surveillance and protect consumers,” stated FDACS Commissioner Adam H. Putnam.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Kathy Simmons, issued a statement noting that the atypical (H-type) BSE was found during routine surveillance testing. She said, “The atypical form of BSE identified in this case is very different from classical BSE and is believed to occur spontaneously. These cases occur very rarely in cattle populations and are not the result of contaminated feedstuffs.”

Simmons added, “The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has determined the United States is a ‘Negligible BSE Risk,’ the lowest possible risk in the world. 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.”

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed that this cow was positive for atypical H-type BSE. The animal was initially tested at the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (a National Animal Health Laboratory Network laboratory) as part of routine surveillance of cattle that are deemed unsuitable for slaughter. APHIS and Florida veterinary officials are gathering more information on the case.

BSE is not contagious and exists in two types—classical and atypical. Classical BSE is the form that occurred primarily in the United Kingdom, beginning in the late 1980s, and it has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in people. 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. Regulations from the Food and Drug Administration have prohibited the inclusion of mammalian protein in feed for cattle and other ruminants since 1997 and have also prohibited high risk tissue materials in all animal feed since 2009.

Atypical BSE is different, and it generally occurs in older cattle, usually 8 years of age or greater. It seems to arise rarely and spontaneously in all cattle populations.

This is the nation’s sixth detection of BSE. Of the five previous U.S. cases, the first, in 2003, was a case of classical BSE in a cow imported from Canada; the rest have been atypical (H- or L-type) BSE.

The OIE recognizes the United States as negligible risk for BSE. As noted in the OIE guidelines for determining this status, atypical BSE cases do not impact official BSE risk status recognition as this form of the disease is believed to occur spontaneously in all cattle populations at a very low rate. 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 the information released from USDA. — WLJ

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