Welcome to BSEInfo.org, an information resource on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, commonly referred to as “mad cow disease”) and several other rare neurological disorders known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE). BSEInfo.org is funded by The Beef Checkoff Program and managed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

FACT SHEET: Beef Safety from "Mad Cow" Disease

What is "Mad Cow" Disease?
Beef Safety from BSE
Interlocking Safeguards
Enhanced BSE Surveillance
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
Additional Information


Maps of BSE Cases

 

What is "Mad Cow" Disease?
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called "mad cow disease,” is a degenerative neurological disease of cattle that is caused by misfolded proteins (called prions) that build up in the central nervous system (CNS) and eventually kill nerve cells.

BSE is spread through certain cattle feed ingredients, which have been banned since 1997.

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Beef Safety from BSE
The world’s leading scientists, medical professionals and government officials agree that BSE is not a public or animal health risk in the United States:

  • In 2007, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) classified the United States as a controlled risk country in regard to BSE, meaning U.S. regulatory controls are effective and fresh beef and products from cattle of all ages is safe.
  • The modeling experts at Harvard’s Center for Risk Analysis reported in 2003 that a detailed analysis shows the food safety measures in place reduce an already very small potential for human exposure to BSE infectivity.
  • The results of a 2005 study published in the journal Lancet also provided scientific evidence about the effectiveness of current measures to protect against BSE. According to the study’s lead researcher, "Our results provide reassurance that BSE screening procedures combined with CNS (central nervous system – brain and spinal tissue) removal are effective measures to protect the human food chain."

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Interlocking Safeguards
For more than 20 years the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been developing and implementing a robust system of safeguards to ensure a BSE-free food supply.

Tissues that could potentially carry BSE in an animal – including the brain and spinal cord – must be removed from cattle prior to processing, and therefore are not allowed into the food supply. This step along with other safeguards ensures BSE has no affect on public health.

The United States began an active BSE surveillance program in 1990 and, since its inception, more than 1 million cattle at greatest risk for BSE have been tested. USDA’s ongoing BSE surveillance program tests approximately 40,000 high-risk cattle annually. This program is rigorous and exceeds international guidelines by 10 times.

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Enhanced BSE Surveillance
In June 2004, USDA instituted a one-time expanded testing program to determine the incidence of BSE in the United States. From June 1, 2004 through Aug. 20, 2006, USDA tested 787,711 cattle and found just two BSE positives.

A scientific analysis of seven years of surveillance data found the estimated prevalence of BSE in the United States to be less than one infected animal per 1 million adult cattle.

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Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
BSE is in a class of rare neurological diseases called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), some of which affect animals while others affect humans. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is a very rare human TSE that research from the United Kingdom has associated with consumption of products contaminated with CNS tissue from BSE-infected cattle. There have been about 200 cases of vCJD in the world (most of these in the U.K.) and zero cases associated with beef consumption in the United States.

Human TSE also include sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD or CJD), which is not related to BSE of vCJD. About 85 percent of CJD cases are sporadic with an annual incidence of about one case per 1 million population worldwide.

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Additional Information
Additional information about BSE can be found at the following Web sites:

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Maps of BSE Cases
BSE has been reported in Asia, Europe and North America. View maps of BSE cases to examine the geographical distribution of this disease.

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