BSE Information

What is the current situation regarding the
 bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) detection?

Visit for more information on the single case of BSE in the U.S.

For More Information

On animal health
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
1 (800) 601-9327

on animal and animal product import/export issues
(301) 734-3277

on food safety, meat, meat products, or meat inspection
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service
1 (800) 535-4555

on human health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Media (404) 639-3091
Public 1 (800) 311-3435

on food, feed, drugs, cosmetics, or biological products
Food and Drug Administration
(301) 443-1130

on science and research
National Institutes of Health
(301) 496-5751

US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine

Canada's BSE website
1 (800) 454-8408


for the latest info on BSE Surveillance

vCJD (Contracted from Made Cow Disease)
 Deaths Blamed on Old-Style Butchering
[March 22, 2001 - United Kingdom]

A cluster of deaths stemming from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human counterpart of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, have been linked to having meat prepared in traditional methods by butchers. (3/22/01)

An official inquiry by Britain's Agriculture Ministry said butchering practices stretching back hundreds of years led to five people aged 19 to 24 dying in central England between August of 1998 and October of 2000, from vCJD.

Philip Monk, who led the inquiry, said smaller slaughterhouses around Queniborough, where the five people died, had passed on whole carcasses, including animals' heads to butchers' shops. Butchers then removed the brain in “an extremely tricky and messy process,” in which there was a tendency for material from the brain to ooze out, Monk said.

According to Monk's report, in cases where the animal had BSE, this could lead to knives becoming contaminated, transferring the disease if the knives were then used to cut up meat sold to customers.

The investigation was launched in July of 2000. A progress report in November said inquiries had eliminated other factors such as the victims' medical histories and were concentrating on the meat supply chain.

Stephen Dealler, a microbiologist who consulted on the investigation, said the findings were alarming.

Dealler said the findings of the investigation will force scientists to revise upwards their estimates for the number of people in Britain who will eventually die from vCJD. To date, the disease has claimed 97 victims in Britain, seven of who are still alive.

“If the disease is transferred just in knives carrying very small amounts from one part of an animal to another part of a cut, it is really very worrying because it suggests that minute amounts are needed to transfer the disease,” Dealler told the British Broadcasting Company.

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The single Holstein cow arrived at a Washington state processing plant as a downer – and subsequently tested presumptively positive for the brain-wasting illness, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said in a late afternoon news conference.

Preliminary tests showed the presence of BSE in the animal, Veneman said, and tissue samples were being flown Tuesday to a United Kingdom laboratory for additional tests to confirm the disease. Those test results can take up to five days, she said.

"A single cow has tested presumptive positive for BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease. Despite this finding we remain confident in the safety of our food supply," said Veneman. "While this would represent the first finding of BSE in the United States we have worked hard to ensure our response is swift and effective. This incident is not terrorist-related. I cannot stress this point strongly enough."

Veneman said the apparently diseased cow was shipped a farm in Mabton, Wash., about 40 miles southeast of Yakima. She said the farm has been quarantined. The cow was processed at Midway Meats in Centralia, Wash.

Veneman said USDA is mounting a thorough investigation to trace the origins of the cow and to determine what happened to the meat processed from it. Veneman noted the spinal column, tissue and brain were rendered and never entered the food chain. USDA officials are unsure of the disposition of the animal's whole muscle cuts.

"As part of our response plan, that farm has been quarantined," Veneman said. "After the animal was slaughtered it was processed in Washington state. The inspection service is working quickly to accurately determine the final disposition of the products from the animal."

Industry groups were quick to reiterate their confidence in the federal monitoring system. "The finding of a single non-ambulatory dairy cow presumptive positive for BSE, slaughtered in a small USDA-inspected plant in Washington, is confirmation that USDA's targeted sampling system is working, and should not be a cause of concern about the safety of beef produced in the United States," said Rosemary Mucklow, executive director of National Meat Association.

Mucklow noted that this first finding of the disease in the United States cattle herd is not entirely a surprise, but should be considered a reassurance to American consumers that the efforts to target testing to the most likely livestock to be infected, the non-ambulatory, and the removal from the human food chain at slaughter of potentially infected tissue from the brain, spinal cord and distalileum are added safeguards that the BSE surveillance program is working.

Bracing for impact

Canada's May 20 announcement of the discovery in that country of a BSE-infected animal ravaged that country's beef and cattle industries. In a separate news conference, National Cattlemen's Beef Association CEO Terry Stokes declined to estimate the economic fallout Tuesday's announcement might have for the U.S. beef industry, but said he believes American consumers will remain confident in the safety of U.S. produced and processed beef.

"While this one case is unfortunate, systems have been built over the past 15 years to prevent this disease from spreading and affecting either animal health or public health," Stokes said, noting the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis has conducted a comprehensive multi-year assessment of the risk of BSE in the United States.

While the Harvard study noted there was some level of risk, the analysis concluded that "measures taken by the U.S. government and industry make the U.S. robust against the spread of BSE to animals or humans should it be introduced into this country."

"While this one case is unfortunate, systems have been built over the past 15 years to prevent this disease from spreading and affecting either animal health or public health," Stokes said.

The United States exports about 10 percent of its beef, about 2.6 billion pounds this year, according to the United States Meat Export Federation.

NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Chandler Keys said it is too soon to gauge how overseas markets will react to the discovery. Keys said his staff plans a visit to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to lobby for any decision the country makes to be "based on science" and is hopeful there will be minimal trade disputations.

For its part, NCBA has launched a Web site,, to disseminate updated information to the public.

Eyes will be focused early today on futures trading at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where analysts suspect live cattle futures could plummet. Shares of fast-food chains, such as McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's International, initially fell more than 4 percent after Tuesday's closing bell on the mad cow news. McDonald's stock fell as low as $24.20 after hours on the Instinet electronic brokerage system from its New York Stock Exchange close at $25.28.

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Last Updated:  Friday, October 09, 2009 03:31 PM