Mad cow disease found in California; no human threat seen

Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:37pm EDT
 
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By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities reported the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in six years on Tuesday and quickly assured consumers and global importers that meat from the California dairy cow did not enter the food chain.

John Clifford, the USDA's chief veterinary officer, said the case was "atypical" and that there was "no cause for alarm" from the animal. Cows can contract the disease spontaneously in rare cases and that it cannot be transmitted unless the brain or spinal tissue is consumed by humans or another animal, according to scientists.

Mad cow, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, is believed to cause the deadly brain disease variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob in humans who eat infected parts from animals with the disease. The first mad cow case in the United States was in late 2003 and caused the nation's beef exports to drop by nearly $3 billion the following year.

There is no evidence that humans can catch it from drinking the milk of an infected cow. However, fears of a potential backlash among consumers and big importers of U.S. beef caused Chicago live cattle futures to drop sharply.

The USDA has begun notifying authorities at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as well as U.S. trading partners, but the finding should not affect the nation's beef exports, Clifford said. The USDA is still tracing the exact life of the infected animal.

The carcass of the cow, which the USDA said was infected by an "atypical" form of the disease, is under quarantine and would be destroyed. The cow, which was found at a rendering plant that processes diseased or sick animals into non-edible products for use in things like soap or glue, was not believed to have contracted the disease by eating contaminated feed, the USDA said.

"There is really no concern for alarm here with regards to this animal. Both human health and animal health are protected with regards to this issue," Clifford told reporters at a briefing at USDA headquarters.

Ahead of the announcement, rumors of the case pushed live cattle futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange down by as much as the 3-cent-per-lb daily limit. But prices pared some losses after the USDA said the beef had not entered the food chain.   Continued...