“Mad Cow Disease” Back in the Spotlight

“Mad Cow Disease:” this may be a reference that many American consumers might associate with the U.K. and the 1990s, or the 2003 American outbreak. April of 2012 might change those associations. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known commonly as “Mad Cow Disease,” was thrust into the American mindset again after the fourth confirmed case in the U.S. in the past fifteen years was discovered in a dairy cow from California.

The cow in question, according to USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford, “was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health.”  According to Clifford, the cow tested “positive for atypical BSE, a very rare form of the disease not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed.” Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack called the case “atypical,” and offered that such a case could be attributed to genetics.

Though an isolated case, there is concern about the potential fallout. According to the CDC the threat to consumers is miniscule (estimated at one in 10 billion, “even after consuming contaminated products”). Often markets have not taken much comfort in such estimates. For instance, after the 2003 case “Beef exports dropped by more than 70%”.

As of the publication date of this article, it looks as if the beef industry will not be too adversely affected. Negative reports centered on South Korea. There, according to CNN, “at least one major South Korean retailer” has pulled American beef from their shelves.  Other markets, such as the European Union and Mexico, at this juncture, appear undeterred, while there may be further conversation/concern from countries such as Taiwan and Russia. The following weeks will likely highlight further details of the international reaction, but the USDA has stated this confirmed case of BSE will likely not effect trade significantly.

The USDA asserts that it will continue to monitor BSE concerns within the food supply.   Currently, they test approximately “40,000 cows a year.” More information on BSE can be found here.

A Picture of Mathew J. Bartkowiak, Ph.D.

About Mathew J. Bartkowiak, Ph.D.

Laboratory Products Department Manager, Nelson-Jameson, Inc.
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