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Beef producers working with veterinarian

Atypical BSE detected in Florida beef cow

Market reaction should be muted—no trade implications expected.

We’ve had our fingers crossed while the beef business dealt with other issues of intense consumer interest. But in the back of our minds, we knew that it could happen again.

And now it has. “It” is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and USDA announced today (August 29) that an atypical case of BSE was found in a 6-year-old crossbred beef cow in Florida.

Important for consumers to know, 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.

Important for beef producers to know, there shouldn’t be any trade issues with this announcement.

That’s especially important for futures traders at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and in the country to realize. Any market reaction to this announcement is completely unwarranted.

Here’s why. According to the USDA news release announcing the case, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) recognizes the United States as negligible risk for BSE.  Further, 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. 

READ: Key messages for producers to know about BSE

According to a USDA fact sheet, 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.  Since 1997, FDA regulations prohibit the inclusion of mammalian protein in feed for cattle and other ruminants and have 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.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) confirmed that this cow was positive for atypical H-type BSE.  The animal was initially tested at the Colorado State University (CSU) 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.

RELATED: BSE case an issue of animal health, not food safety

This is the nation’s 6th 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 most recent case was discovered last summer in a beef cow in Alabama.

The United States has a longstanding system of interlocking safeguards against BSE that 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 should an animal have 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 our system which led to this detection is our ongoing BSE surveillance 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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