What is BSE?
BSE, commonly called Mad Cow Disease, is a degenerative neurological disease caused by an aberrant protein called a prion. It is in the family of diseases — all caused by prions — referred to as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs. TSEs include scrapie in sheep and goats, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, in humans. TSEs are not communicable diseases — they do not spread easily like viruses.
What Consumers Should Know:
- BSE has not been found in meat like steaks, roasts and other cuts of beef common to consumers.
- All U.S. cattle are inspected by a USDA Inspector or veterinarian before going to slaughter.
- Most Virginia cattle are not slaughtered in state but are fed to a certain weight, then sold to producers in other states that feed them to market weight.
- BSE typically affects cattle over 30 months of age. The majority go to market by 24 months. The US banned importation of cattle from countries with BSE in 1989.
- The US banned feeds produced with the meat and nerve tissue of ruminant animals in 1997 after it was determined to be a source of BSE.
Are There Any Risks To The US Food Supply As A Result Of This Case Of BSE?
Despite this finding, USDA remains confident in the safety of the US food supply. The risk to human health from BSE is extremely low. As is standard practice for downer animals identified prior to slaughter, the animal's brain, spinal cord, and other related products were removed and sent to a rendering facility. These so-called "specified risk materials" present the greatest risk of carrying the BSE agent and have not entered US food supply channels. The scientific community believes that there is no evidence to demonstrate that muscle cuts or whole muscle meats that come from animals infected with BSE are at risk of harboring the causative agent of the disease.
How Does BSE Affect Humans?
A fatal TSE affecting humans, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), is believed to be caused by eating neural tissue, such as brain and spinal cord, from BSE-affected cattle. For this reason, USDA requires that all nervous system materials be removed from downer cattle identified at U.S. slaughter facilities. These specified risk materials are removed, sent to rendering facilities, and do not enter U.S. food supply channels. We believe this practice effectively safeguards U.S. public health from vCJD.
Having said that, it is important to clarify the differences between variant CJD and another form of the disease, referred to as classic CJD. Classic CJD occurs each year at a rate of 1 to 2 cases per 1 million people throughout the world, including in the United States and other countries where BSE has never occurred. It is not linked to the consumption of neural tissue from BSE-affected cattle—both vegetarians and meat eaters have died from classic CJD.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), no cases of variant CJD have been identified in the United States, the form of the disease linked to eating neural tissue from BSE-affected cattle.
Is There A Meat Recall Associated With The Current Case Of BSE?
Verns Moses Lake Meats, a Moses Lake, WA, establishment, is voluntarily recalling approximately 10,410 pounds of raw beef that may have been exposed to tissues from the animal in question containing the infectious agent that causes BSE.
The beef subject to this recall (20 carcasses) was produced on December 9. It was then shipped to Midway Meats of Centralia, WA and several establishments where it was further processed. These establishments are Willamette Valley Meat Co., Portland, OR and Interstate Meat Dist., Inc., Clackamas, OR.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has Enforcement, Investigation and Analysis Officers (EIAO) at the three facilities and they are identifying and verifying the distribution of the product. FSIS is continuing its investigation to ensure that all distribution of the beef products is correctly identified.