Oh, delicious. The U.S. Department of Agriculture held a press conference today to confirm that a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as mad cow disease) was, in fact, found at a dairy farm in Central California. This marks the fourth confirmed case of mad cow disease in the United States and the first since 2006.
"As part of our targeted surveillance system, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the nation's fourth case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a dairy cow from central California. The carcass of the animal is being held under State authority at a rendering facility in California and will be destroyed. It was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health. Additionally, milk does not transmit BSE.”
So that’s some good news. The afflicted cow’s carcass is being destroyed and did not enter the food supply, and – being that it was a dairy cow and BSE isn’t transferred through milk – the chances of it passing along its mad cow disease to humans was slim to none. The cow in question was also diagnosed with a rare form of “atypical BSE,” which tends to not be the result of infected feed, ostensibly meaning that the chance of neighboring cows contracting the illness should be similarly rare.
Of course, it does beg the question – how did the cow contract BSE in the first place? The USDA isn’t sure yet, but Clifford asserts that the agency is working to find out:
“We are sharing our laboratory results with international animal health reference laboratories in Canada and England, which have official World Animal Health (OIE) reference labs. These labs have extensive experience diagnosing atypical BSE and will review our confirmation of this form of the disease. In addition, we will be conducting a comprehensive epidemiological investigation in conjunction with California animal and public health officials and the FDA.”
In the meantime, the USDA is stressing its confidence in the utmost safety of beef and dairy products across the United States. Still, the UK mad cow disease epidemic of the mid-1990s left a pretty lasting impression worldwide, and as a nation we were just starting to put the pink slime controversy behind us. So here's hoping the USDA is able to swiftly root out the cause of this infection. Without that vital piece of information, this latest news may very well cause consumers to once again lose their appetites.