USDA Announcement of Suspect BSE in a Dairy Cow in Washington State
Terry Stokes, Chief Executive Officer, National Cattlemen's Beef Association
December 23, 2003

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced today the diagnosis of a possible case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, also known as mad cow disease) in a Dairy Cow in Washington State. 

The U.S. has conducted a BSE surveillance program since 1990 and this is the first possible case that has been found.

The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis has conducted a comprehensive multi-year assessment of the risk of BSE in the U.S. While the Harvard study noted there was some level of risk, the analysis concluded that "In summary, 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.

NCBA has fully supported an aggressive surveillance program in the U.S. to assure that if BSE were introduced it would be detected and eliminated. We applaud the swift action taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to announce the finding of this possible case and its aggressive investigation of the circumstances. The U.S. cattle industry remains committed to eliminating this disease from North America. As such, we will work closely with the USDA to carry out a full investigation and determine what additional preventive measures, if any, need to be taken to continue to protect animal and public health.

This case was found in a federally inspected plant. The central nervous tissue from this animal, which scientists recognize as the infective material, did not go into the food supply.

Consumers should continue to eat beef with confidence. All scientific studies show that the BSE infectious agent has never been found in beef muscle meat or milk and U.S. beef remains safe to eat.

Americans can be confident in the safety of U.S. beef for a number of reasons:

* The BSE agent is not found in meat like steaks and roasts. It is found in central nervous system tissue such as brain and spinal cord.

* All U.S. cattle are inspected by a USDA Inspector or veterinarian before going to slaughter. Animals with any signs of neurological disorder are tested for BSE. 

* BSE affects older cattle, typically over 30 months of age. The vast majority of the cattle going to market in the U.S. are less than 24 months old.

* The U.S. began a surveillance program for BSE in 1990 and was the first country without the disease within its borders to test cattle for the disease. The surveillance system targets all cattle with any signs of neurological disorder as well as those over 30 months of age and animals that are non-ambulatory.

* The U.S. banned imports of cattle and bovine products from countries with BSE beginning in 1989.

* The only way BSE spreads is through contaminated feed. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration in 1997 instituted a ban on feeding ruminant-derived meat and bone meal supplements to cattle. This is a firewall that prevents the spread of BSE to other animals if it were present in the U.S.

Currently this is a suspected case in one animal and the USDA is aggressively investigating this case.  We want to reiterate that we support a full investigation and the necessary steps to eliminate this disease from North America and protect the health of U.S. cattle.

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