KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Industry reaction to a recently confirmed case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) came swiftly as trade groups, scientists and educators worked to quell concerns about the safety of the US beef and milk supply.
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is confident that the US beef and dairy supply is safe.
"The systems and safeguards in place to protect animal and human health worked as planned to identify this case quickly, and will ensure that it presents no risk to the food supply or to human health,” Vilsack said. “USDA has no reason to believe that any other US animals are currently affected, but we will remain vigilant and committed to the safeguards in place."
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the fourth US case of BSE in a dairy cow at a California-based rendering facility. Samples taken from the infected cow were tested at USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. The cow tested positive for atypical BSE, which is a very rare form of the disease not generally associated with an animal eating infected feed.
“Certainly, BSE news can generate concerns and questions, but the facts show that our animal disease prevention system is strong and our beef is safe,” said James H. Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute (AMI). “Consumers can continue to enjoy their beef with confidence."
Hodges said that the US cattle herd is more than 90 million head, and that more than 30 million head are processed annually. The US has had only four confirmed cases of BSE since 2003, which translates into one of the lowest rates of BSE in any nation that has ever diagnosed a case, he added.
“Also reassuring is the fact that no case of the human version (called Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or vCJD) has ever been associated with US beef consumption,” Hodges said. “In the United Kingdom, where nearly all of the human cases have occurred, it was common to consume parts of the animal that can transmit the disease, like the brain of older animals. That was not a practice that was ever common in the U.S., and since 2003, it has been illegal.”
There are also signs that the case will not interrupt international trade in US beef. Canada and Japan have already said there are no plans for those countries to stop US beef imports.
Japan restricts US beef imports to cattle 20 months old or younger as it is thought that older animals are at higher risk of having the disease. Japan’s agriculture ministry has proposed raising the age limit to 30 months, however the recent BSE case may cause the ministry to delay a decision on the proposal until the country’s food safety agency has had an opportunity to examine the findings, according to a report from Reuters.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said that because both countries have implemented measures to protect animal and human health against BSE and because rules for market access are science-based, the new BSE case will not affect trade between the US and Canada, according to Associated Press reports.
However, Home Plus and Lotte Mart, two major South Korean retailers stopped selling US beef after news of the BSE-infected cow broke. Home Plus would eventually resume sales of US beef after the country’s government announced it would increase inspections. Lotte Mart has maintained its ban.