SALEM, Ohio – An Alabama cow tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy last week, marking the third confirmed case in the U.S.
Experts say the new case poses no risk to human health; the animal in question never entered the human or animal feed supply.
“The bottom line for consumers remains the same: Your beef is safe,” said Terry Stokes, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association chief executive officer.
The cow, a red crossbred, had been on the Alabama farm less than a year and, as of March 20, investigators have not been able to determine its origin.
The matter began when local veterinarian was called to the farm to examine the cow after it became unable to walk. The veterinarian returned to the farm the following day, euthanized the animal and collected a sample that was submitted for testing. The cow was buried on the farm at that time.
After tests for BSE came back positive, the animal was exhumed.
Age. Experts used the cow’s teeth to estimate that it was at least 10 years old and could have been infected before U.S. banned the use of ground-up cattle remains in cattle feed nine years ago.
Investigators are also looking for the cow’s offspring. A 6-week-old calf has been located and shipped to a laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for observation.
Tests. Two different tests – the Western blot and immunohistochemistry – showed positive results for BSE.
As part of the USDA’s BSE enhanced surveillance program, more than 650,000 samples have been tested since June 2004.
“We started the testing program in June 2004. Since that time we’ve processed almost 50 million animals in the U.S. and found three that have had BSE. So it is a very, very, very extremely low incidence in our herd,” said Chris Hurt, Purdue University agricultural economist.
BSE was first discovered in the U.S. Dec. 23, 2003, in Washington. A second case was confirmed June 24, 2005, in Texas.
Hurt expects American consumption of U.S. beef to remain stable and he said the BSE case will have a minimal effect on cattle prices and beef exports. Countries that do not accept U.S. beef aren’t likely to reopen their boarders and countries that do accept it will probably continue to do so.
As for losing beef exports, Hurt said Japan – one of the largest consumers of U.S. beef – is already not buying it.
No impact. He does not expect the BSE case to have an impact on Canadian and Mexican markets.
“In general, we think this new case will delay somewhat our getting together with Asian countries, particularly Japan and South Korea, but we don’t believe it is going to have any measurable impact in terms of the volume of exports or the price of cattle,” Hurt said.
Stokes agreed, saying the BSE case won’t have an impact on relationships with international trading partners.
“The United States will continue to engage in trade that is consistent with the international standards outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health and we expect countries that trade with us to do the same,” Stokes said.
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