|The infectious material from the index cow, central nervous system tissue such as brains and spinal cord, never entered the human food chain. BSE is found in central nervous system tissue, not muscle cuts.
“The news media immediately picked up the story as the headline news all during the holidays, but our industry did a great job in getting out the factual information that kept consumer confidence in the safety of our beef supply extremely high,” stated Dr. Lee Alley, president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. “Thank goodness the industry has a checkoff program that had a response plan right ready to implement,” continued Alley.
“The media coverage of the BSE crisis was basically positive,” stated Billy Powell, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association
(ACA) executive vice president. “Within hours of the USDA announcement on December 23, we implemented our BSE Crisis Management plan that checkoff dollars had allowed us to prepare and have ready for action,” said Powell. He continued, “In fact, just this past October, we held a media training workshop with a former CNN reporter for our leadership and ten members of the State Department of Agriculture staff – one scenario to react to was the first case of BSE found in the U.S. So you can see, we were ready – and it sure paid off.”
On January 6, USDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency jointly announced that DNA testing had confirmed that the cow’s herd of origin was Canadian. This means that the index cow in Washington was born prior to the 1997 U.S. and Canadian ban against feeding ruminant-derived protein to cattle. The United States put its ban in place in August of 1997 and Canada followed shortly thereafter.
Contaminated ruminant-based feed is the source responsible for transmitting
BSE. BSE is not contagious. Ron DeHaven, chief veterinary officer for USDA, said that “we have not yet had a native-born case of BSE in the United States.” He also added that given the integrated nature of the cattle industry, he sees this BSE as a North American issue, not simply a Canadian or American
one. The BSE-infected Holstein cow was culled from its herd in Mabton, Wash., on Dec. 9. The cow was non-ambulatory at the time of slaughter. The infected cow was culled due to problems associated with calving. The cow was inspected twice by USDA veterinarians — once prior to slaughter and once after. In both exams it was determined that the injuries were consistent with birthing difficulty.
The cow was one of 20 animals processed that day. Two other non-ambulatory animals also were processed that day. The meat from all 20, totaling 10,140 pounds was recalled out of “an abundance of caution,” although the Food Safety Inspection Service said the risk from the meat was virtually zero.
As part of the regular USDA surveillance for
BSE, tissue from all three non-ambulatory animals was sent to the USDA laboratory in Ames, Iowa for testing. One tested
BSE. Following the presumptive positive results for the index cow, results were sent to an international laboratory in
Weybridge, England for confirmation. Those results came back positive on Christmas Day.
USDA quickly identified that the infected cow came from a 4,000-head dairy operation covering two premises. Both were placed under quarantine.
On Dec. 27, USDA said that the primary line of its trace-back investigation led to Alberta, Canada where records show that the cow was importehttps://www.alafarmnews.com/files/0204archive/d into the u.s. in 2001. the index cow was one of 82 cows listed on a canadian health certificate used for export to the united states. usda had worked to locate the other cows in this shipment.
USDA said that all 450 animals on the farm with the infected cow’s calf were depopulated because the calf wasn’t tagged at birth and it didn’t want to DNA test all 450 to identify it. An indemnity program based on fair market value is in place. Although science indicates there is little chance of transmitting BSE from a mother to its offspring, this step, also, was taken in “an abundance of caution.”
USDA said that it was far too early to draw any conclusions about the source of contaminated feed for this animal, especially given the integrated nature of the U.S. and Canadian markets.
NCBA has surveyed consumer attitudes about BSE regularly since 1996. On December 29 and 30, NCBA using checkoff dollars, conducted a special consumer attitude survey. The awareness of BSE went up significantly from 61% to 94%; however, the consumer confidence that our beef is safe increased slightly from 88% to 89%. Reports from supermarkets and restaurants indicated that beef demand remains strong. Another survey was in January with the consumer confidence in U.S. beef still very high at 89%.
At press time, beef industry leaders are working with USDA officials to re-open the exports markets. The
checkoff-funded promotional programs are being stepped up to continue promoting beef here in the U.S. Prices have rebounded and hopefully these measures will restore the strong calf prices that Alabama producers were anticipating for 2004.