Second U.S. cow may have mad disease

WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2004 (ENS): "Early this morning, we were notified that an inconclusive BSE test result was received on a rapid screening test used as part of our enhanced BSE surveillance program."

With these words Thursday, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official Andrea Morgan restarted the mad cow scare that has had the agency scrambling all year to regain world markets for its beef after one cow was found with mad cow disease in Washington state last December.

"The inconclusive result does not mean we have found another case of BSE in this country. Inconclusive results are a normal component of screening tests, which are designed to be extremely sensitive so they will detect any sample that could possibly be positive," said Morgan hopefully.

The animal in question "did not enter the food or feed chain," she said.

Morgan's department, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), has sent tissue samples the National Veterinary Services Laboratories - the national reference lab for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - which will run confirmatory testing.

Morgan would give few further details. She did say that APHIS has begun internal steps to trace the animal, if further testing were to return a positive result.

Confirmatory results are expected back from the lab within the next 4 to 7 days. If the test comes back positive for BSE, the government will provide more information about the animal and its origin, she said.

"USDA remains confident in the safety of the U.S. beef supply. Our ban on specified risk materials from the human food chain provides the protection to public health, should another case of BSE ever be detected in the United States."

BSE is caused by misfolded infectious proteins known as prions that infect the brains and spinal cords of animals. The fatal brain wasting disease is passed on when an animal or human consumes infected tissue. The brains, spinal cords and parts of the digestive tracts are now known as specified risk materials and the USDA has passed regulations that aim to ensure these materials do not become human or animal food.

The human form of mad cow disease is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), and it too is invariably fatal.

Morgan told reporters that after the first animal was found to have BSE, agriculture officials would not be surprised to see other animals with the disease.

"Some subset of these animals may even turn out to be positive for BSE. While none of us wants to see that happen, that is not unexpected either. Our surveillance program is designed to test as many animals as we can in the populations that are considered to be at high risk for BSE," she said.

Morgan listed the precautions against BSE that are now in place in the United States.

  • the longstanding ban on imports of live cattle, other ruminants, and most ruminant products from high-risk countries;
  • the Food and Drug Administration's 1997 prohibition on the use of most mammalian protein in cattle feed;
  • an aggressive surveillance program that has been in place for more than a decade;
  • the banning of non-ambulatory cattle from the human food chain;
  • the process control requirement for establishments using advanced meat recovery (AMR) systems;
  • prohibiting the air-injection stunning of cattle;
  • if an animal presented for slaughter is sampled for BSE, holding the carcass until the test results have been confirmed negative.

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