A new case of mad cow disease was discovered in a California dairy cow. This is the first case of mad cow in the United States since 2006.
According to health authorities, the sickened animal was not a threat to the U.S. food supply, said the Associated Press (AP). The infected dairy cow—the fourth cow infected with Mad Cow to be discovered in the U.S.—was discovered as part of a surveillance program conducted by the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA). The program tests some 40,000 cows annually for Mad Cow.
Meat from the sickened cow was not scheduled to be sent to the food supply, according to the USDA’s chief veterinary officer, John Clifford. “There is really no cause for alarm here with regard to this animal,” Clifford told reporters, said the AP.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, is fatal to both animals and the humans who consume sickened meat. While cattle are afflicted with BSE, humans who eat infected meat are at a risk of contracting Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [vCJD]. Mad Cow Disease is a fatal, brain-wasting disease which scientists believe can be spread by contaminated feed and by eating contaminated parts from an infected animal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tests indicate that humans cannot contract BSE by drinking the milk of BSE-infected animals, said the AP.
Contamination can occur in any of a variety of stages in the meat process from manufacture to transport and can also occur through the accidental misfeeding of non-ruminant feed to ruminant animals. Ruminant feed is feed intended for animals such as cattle.
Following a Mad Cow Disease outbreak in Britain several years back, both Canada and the United States banned the inclusion of protein from cows and other ruminant animals, such as goats and sheep, in cattle feed in 1997. The vast BSE outbreak in Britain, which reached its peak in 1993, was blamed on farmers including recycled meat and bone meal from infected cows into cattle feed, explained the AP.
In the U.S. there are also bans in place against slaughtering most “downer” cattle for human food and a requirement in place for meatpackers to remove brains, spinal cords, and other parts most likely to contain the malformed proteins blamed for Mad Cow Disease from animal carcasses. Downer animals are those animals too sick to walk on their own. The USDA forbids downer cows that cannot move on their own from being slaughtered because their illness may be an indication of a condition that renders their meat unfit for consumption.
Meanwhile, according to Clifford, the California cow is what is described as an atypical BSE case—the animal did not contract BSE from consuming infected cattle feed, but was, rather, “just a random mutation that can happen every once in a great while in an animal,” said Bruce Akey, director of the New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University. “Random mutations go on in nature all the time,” Akey added, said the FDA.
Clifford did not indicate at what point BSE was discovered or where the cow was raised, but did say that the cow was at a central California rendering plant where USDA sample testing routinely occurs, explained the AP. Rendering plants process animal parts not intended for human consumption, for example, animal food, household products, and chemical products, explained the AP.
Dennis Luckey, executive vice president of Baker Commodities, told the AP that the BSE was discovered at its Hanford, California transfer station; the cow, which died at the dairy, was selected for random sampling and was tagged randomly for the surveillance program, Luckey added. Michael Marsh, chief executive of Western United Dairymen, told the AP that the cow was an adult over 30 months of age that was neither downed nor sick and appeared normal at its last observation. The cow was first tested on April 18, the AP noted.
Of the three previously confirmed BSE cases in cows in the U.S., two were diagnosed with atypical versions of the disease.