BSE is a subject we at BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly would love to quit writing about, but it again dominated national news and industry discussion this week.
This week, USDA scientists were buzzing about the fact the two U.S. domestic cases of BSE -- one in Texas and the other in Alabama -- represent a different strain than that found in the Canadian-born cow of December 2003 and the majority of cases around the world. Scientists are calling the strain, which has been found mostly in Europe and Japan, "atypical."
The theory seems to be this BSE strain isn't caused by feeding contaminated byproducts, but occurs spontaneously, much like the variant CJD strain in humans. The statistical data seems to indicate the strain occurs randomly in about 1 in a million head.
One theory is the atypical strain is a mutation of the original virus. Depending on your perspective this could be good news. After all, it seemingly validates that the U.S. hasn't had a domestic case of BSE attributable to a breakdown in our feed ban. Conversely it also might indicate the U.S. will continue to randomly pick up a positive BSE animal from time to time.
Almost certainly, the media hype has peaked. People by now understand that testing is strictly for surveillance, and it is such safeguards as removing specified risk materials (SRMs) that keeps the product safe. Certainly it highlights how correct USDA's decision was to not allow disease-surveillance programs to be used as part of a marketing campaign, as it has the potential to devastate the industry.
Much research needs to be conducted to more fully understand BSE. Until the answers are known, we'll have an environment of uncertainty that potentially could harm consumer demand, particularly with all the crackpots at work who thrive in such times of uncertainty.
-- Troy Marshall