The animal was not slaughtered and didn't enter the food chain.
WASHINGTON – The US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) has announced an atypical case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was found in an 11-year-old cow in Alabama. The animal had not been slaughtered and did not enter the food chain.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) determined that the cow tested positive for atypical, or L-type, BSE after the animal was showing clinical signs of the illness through routine surveillance at an Alabama livestock market.

There are two types of BSE – classical and atypical – neither of which is contagious. According to USDA-APHIS, “Classical BSE is the form that occurred primarily in the United Kingdom, beginning in the late 1980’s, 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.”

Atypical BSE generally is found in older cattle – usually 8 years or older. It occurs spontaneously, not a result of contaminated feed. Four atypical cases have been detected in the US since 2005. Only one case of classical BSE has been detected in the US in a Canadian cow.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has labeled the United States as having a 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,” USDA-APHIS said. “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.”

In response to the USDA’s announcement, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) issued a statement: “The US Dept. of Agriculture’s prompt detection of a case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy in an Alabama cow before it was sent to a plant for processing should reassure consumers that the US animal health surveillance system and interlocking safeguards are working and that beef remains safe.

“The US surveillance system for sampling and testing cattle far exceeds recommended international standards. Thanks to our ‘gold standard’ system, officials detected the disease in the cow early. The US also requires that any tissues that could pose a risk if an animal did have BSE like the brain in an older beef animal are not permitted in the food supply.  

“Consumers should continue to enjoy beef knowing that the US has firewalls in place to ensure that beef remains both delicious and safe.”