Atypical BSE Confirmed in Florida Cow

An atypical case of BSE was detected in a six year-old Florida beef cow, but never entered the slaughter channels and poses no threat to the U.S. food supply. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the discovery of an atypical case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a six year-old mixed-breed beef cow in Florida. USDA says the animal never entered the slaughter channels and never presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it is working closely with USDA on the case.

“This detection shows just how well our surveillance system works. We’re grateful to our partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who work alongside us day in and day out to conduct routine surveillance and protect consumers,” stated Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.

Atypical BSE is different than classical BSE, and it generally occurs in older cattle and seems to arise rarely and spontaneously in all cattle populations.

“The atypical form of BSE identified in this case is very different from classical BSE and is believed to occur spontaneously. These cases occur very rarely in cattle populations and are not the result of contaminated feedstuffs,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) chief veterinarian Kathy Simmons.

The news of the BSE discovery had little – if any – impact on cattle markets Wednesday. CME August cattle futures were up slightly mid-morning, with deferred contracts modestly lower. CME August feeder cattle also traded higher, with deferred contracts down slightly.

The Florida case is the sixth confirmed BSE detection in the United States.

Of the five previous U.S. cases, the first, in 2003, was a case of classical BSE in a cow imported from Canada; the rest have been atypical (H- or L-type) BSE.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) confirmed that the Florida cow was positive for atypical H-type BSE. The animal was initially tested at the Colorado State University (CSU) Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (a National Animal Health Laboratory Network laboratory) as part of routine surveillance of cattle that are deemed unsuitable for slaughter. 

BSE is not contagious and exists in two types - classical and atypical.  Classical BSE is the form that occurred primarily in the United Kingdom, beginning in the late 1980’s, and it has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in people. The primary source of infection for classical BSE is feed contaminated with the infectious prion agent, such as meat-and-bone meal containing protein derived from rendered infected cattle.  Regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have prohibited the inclusion of mammalian protein in feed for cattle and other ruminants since 1997 and have also prohibited high risk tissue materials in all animal feed since 2009.

Atypical BSE is different, and it generally occurs in older cattle, usually 8 years of age or greater. It seems to arise rarely and spontaneously in all cattle populations.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) recognizes the U.S. as negligible risk for BSE. As noted in the OIE guidelines for determining this status, atypical BSE cases do not impact official BSE risk status recognition as this form of the disease is believed to occur spontaneously in all cattle populations at a very low rate. Therefore, this finding of an atypical case will not change the negligible risk status of the United States, and should not lead to any trade issues.

“Consumers can rest assured that the U.S. continues to be the global leader in the production of safe and wholesome high-quality beef,” Simmons said.

The United States has a longstanding system of interlocking safeguards against BSE that protects public and animal health in the United States, the most important of which is the removal of specified risk materials - or the parts of an animal that would contain BSE should an animal have the disease - from all animals presented for slaughter. The second safeguard is a strong feed ban that protects cattle from the disease. Another important component of our system - which led to this detection - is our ongoing BSE surveillance program that allows USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the U.S. cattle population.

More information about this disease is available in the BSE fact sheet.

More information on the developing story can be found below: