A case of mad cow disease has been found in a cow in Alabama.
U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists confirmed Tuesday that an 11-year-old cow found in an Alabama livestock market suffered from the neurologic cattle disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The animal “at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States,” according to the USDA.
The case is the fifth confirmed detection of BSE in the U.S., though none in the Midwest. The last cow found with BSE in the U.S. was discovered in 2012 in California, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The form of BSE found in the Alabama cow is known as “atypical BSE,” and is less of a concern than what is known as “classical BSE,” which cattle can contract by eating contaminated feed. Atypical BSE generally occurs in older cattle and “seems to arise rarely and spontaneously in all cattle populations,” according to the USDA.
BSE is not contagious to humans or to livestock. Humans, however, can contract a version of BSE called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) by eating meat from an infected animal. There is no indication at this point that the U.S. food supply is comprised.
Iowa State University veterinarian Grant Dewell says the USDA monitors for all forms of BSE in the wake of a BSE outbreak in the United Kingdom, which began in the 1980s.
“We’re always cautious because we don’t want classical BSE to start being transmitted and spread in the U.S., [as] happened in Europe,” Dewell says.
Safeguards such as routine surveillance and changes to cattle feed are credited with keeping the disease at bay. When tests detected BSE in an American beef cow in 2003, many countries – including big trading partners like China, Japan and South Korea – stopped importing U.S. beef, decimating the vital export market for U.S. beef producers. Many of those countries have since resumed importing U.S. beef that comply with certain rules. The discovery of BSE in Alabama comes a little more than a month after American beef producers began sending beef to China after a 14-year hiatus.