Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) - Q & A's
Q: What is the current situation regarding the bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) detection?
A: On the morning of December 25, 2003, the BSE World Reference
Laboratory in Weybridge, England, confirmed USDA’s December 23
preliminary diagnosis of BSE in a single non-ambulatory dairy cow that
had been slaughtered on December 9 at Vern’s Moses Lake Meats
in Washington State. USDA and Canada worked together to confirm the
identification of this cow through DNA testing.
On December 30, 2003, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced additional
safeguards to bolster the U.S. protection systems against BSE and further
protect public health. The policies will further strengthen protections
against BSE by removing certain animals and specified risk material
and tissues from the human food chain; requiring additional process
controls for establishments using advanced meat recovery (AMR); holding
meat from cattle that have been targeted for BSE surveillance testing
until the test has confirmed negative; and prohibiting the air injection
stunning of cattle.
The U.S. Agriculture Secretary announced that USDA will begin immediate implementation of a verifiable system of national animal identification. The development of such a system has been underway for more than a year-and-a-half to achieve uniformity, consistency and efficiency across this national system.
Q: What are the results of USDA’s investigation so far?
A: On January 6, 2003, USDA announced that DNA evidence verified,
with a high degree of certainty, that the BSE positive cow found in
the state of Washington did in fact originate from a dairy farm in Alberta,
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Heath Inspection Service (APHIS) and
Canadian officials have determined that the index animal was approximately
6-1/2 years old at the time of slaughter. The age of the animal is significant
because she would have been born before feed bans were implemented in
North America in August 1997. The feed bans prohibit the inclusion
of ruminant protein in feed intended for other ruminants to eat. This
practice has been identified time and time again as the primary means
by which BSE is spread.
The index cow had three calves while in the United States. The first
was stillborn. The second, a yearling heifer, is among 129 animals from
the index farm being depopulated. The third, a bull calf, was among
the group of calves depopulated January 6. The herd the affected animal
came from is under a State quarantine in Washington State. Any cattle
that die on the farm will be tested for BSE.
Through its traceback investigation, the USDA’s Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has determined the following additional
• The Canadian health certificate, dated August 28, 2001, lists
82 ear tag numbers from cattle that were part of herd dispersal in Alberta,
Canada. USDA has confirmed that 81 of those 82 animals crossed into
the United States in September, 2001. It is believed that one of the
82 remained in Canada. To learn the latest number and locations of animal
traced, please check the daily BSE update at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/bse/bse.html
• USDA depopulated the bull calf operation in that included the
calf born to the cow infected with BSE on January 5. The depopulated
herd contained approximately 450 head of cattle. The depopulation effort
took place at slaughter facility that currently is not in use. Animal
care experts were on hand at both the farm where the calves were loaded
and at the slaughter facility to ensure that the animals were treated
in a humane manner. The animals were euthanized according to American
Veterinary Medical Association animal euthanasia guidelines. No products
from any of the slaughtered animals will enter the human food chain,
nor will products be rendered.
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
Q: What is BSE?
A: BSE 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.
It’s important to note that TSEs are not communicable diseases—they
do not spread easily like viruses.
Q: How is BSE spread in cattle?
A: There is no scientific evidence that shows BSE can be spread
by contact between unrelated adult cattle or from cattle to other species.
There is some evidence suggesting maternal transmission may occur at
extremely low levels. Cattle can become infected with BSE by eating
feed contaminated with the infectious BSE agent. This is why in 1997
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibited the use of most mammalian
protein in the manufacture of animal feed intended for cows and other
ruminants. For more information on the feed ban, please visit the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration’s website at www.fda.gov.
Q: What steps is USDA taking in response to the detection?
A: USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has taken
the following actions:
• USDA has banned all non-ambulatory disabled (downer) cattle
from the human food chain effective immediately.
• FSIS inspectors will no longer mark cattle targeted for testing
under the BSE surveillance program as “inspected and passed”
until confirmation is received that the animals have, in fact, tested
negative for BSE. This new policy is in the form of an interpretive
rule that was published January 8, 2004 in the Federal Register. It
is important to note that FSIS inspection program personnel have always
— and will continue to — perform ante- and post-mortem inspection
of cattle that are slaughtered in the United States. As part of the
ante-mortem inspection, FSIS personnel look for signs of disease, including
signs of central nervous system impairment. Animals showing signs of
systemic disease, including those exhibiting signs of neurological impairment,
are condemned and do not enter the food chain. Meat from all condemned
animals has never been permitted for use as human food.
• Effective January 8, 2004, USDA enhanced its regulations by
declaring as specified risk materials skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia,
eyes, vertebral column, spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of cattle
over 30 months of age and the distal ilium of the small intestine of
cattle of all ages, thus prohibiting their use in the human food supply.
Tonsils from all cattle were already considered inedible and therefore
do not enter the food supply. These enhancements are consistent with
the actions taken by Canada after the discovery of BSE in May 2003.
• In March 2003, FSIS began a routine regulatory sampling program
for beef produced from AMR systems to ensure that spinal cord tissue
is not present in beef. In a new interim rule announced December 31,
2003, meat processing establishments have to ensue process control through
verification testing to ensure that neither spinal cord nor dorsal root
ganglia is present in the product. (For a more detailed description
of AMR see below).
• In order to ensure that portions of the brain are not dislocated
into tissues of the carcass as a consequence of humanely stunning cattle
during the slaughter process, FSIS has issued a regulation to ban the
practice of air-injection stunning.
• USDA will prohibit use of mechanically separated meat in human
food. Consumers with other food safety questions can call the toll-free
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (674-6854). The hotline
is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m.
to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety
messages are available 24 hours a day.
Q: What is Advanced Meat Recovery?
A: AMR is an industrial technology that removes muscle tissue
from the bone of beef carcasses under high pressure without incorporating
bone material when operated properly. AMR products can be labeled as
“meat.” FSIS has previously had regulations in place that
prohibit spinal cord from being included in products labeled as “meat.”
An FSIS regulation published January 8, 2004,
expands that prohibition to include dorsal root ganglia, and clusters
of nerve cells connected to the spinal cord along the vertebrae column,
in addition to spinal cord tissue. Like the spinal cord, the dorsal
root ganglia may also contain BSE infectivity if the animal is infected.
In addition, because the vertebral column and skull in cattle 30 months
and older will be considered inedible, it cannot be used for AMR.
Testing and Surveillance
Q: Given the Secretary’s announcement to prohibit downer
cattle from slaughter establishments, what does that mean in terms of
USDA’s BSE surveillance program?
A: USDA has tested 20,000 animals annually for each of the
last 2 years, and approximately 75 percent of these were downers at
slaughter. USDA is working with industry to reposition its efforts to
collect samples on-farm, at rendering facilities, and at facilities
where meat products are harvested for non-edible purposes. USDA is committed—and
the industry shares this commitment—to ensuring that a robust
surveillance program for BSE continues in this country. USDA will be
working very closely with the rendering and animal disposal industry
and other government agencies in the days and weeks to come to ensure
that USDA continues to have access to the population of animals considered
to be at highest risk for BSE.
Q: Will USDA be issuing licenses for rapid diagnostic tests
A: USDA’s Center for Veterinary Biologics, in Ames, Iowa
will accept license and permit applications for rapid test kits. Accepting
license and permit applications at this time will allow CVB to respond
to submissions, test master seeds and serials and inspect facilities
should a decision to license need to be made to further protect animal
BSE and its effect on U.S. trade
Q: What does the detection of BSE in the United States mean
for the country’s beef exports?
A: In accordance with international trade agreements, USDA
has notified the international animal health governing body, the Office
of International Epizootic's (OIE), of the positive BSE detection.
USDA officials will be working to provide U.S. trading partners and
international animal health officials with information regarding the
steps being taken in response to the detection.
For a current list of countries that have place BSE restrictions on
the United States visit the following website:
BSE and the U.S. Food Supply
Q: What are the risks to the U.S. food supply as a result of
A: USDA remains confident in the safety of the U.S. 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
U.S. 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.
Q: Is there a meat recall associated with the detection?
A: Yes. On December 23, 2003, FSIS issued a Class II recall
of approximately 10,410 pounds of raw beef that may have been exposed
to tissues containing the infectious agent that causes BSE. FSIS’
designation of the recall as Class II was due to the extremely low likelihood
that the beef contained the infectious agent that causes BSE. According
to scientific evidence, the tissues of highest infectivity are the brain,
spinal cord, and distal ileum portion of the small intestine. All were
removed from the rest of the carcass at slaughter. Therefore, the meat
produced were cuts that would not be expected to be infected or have
an adverse public health impact. The recall is being conducted out of
an abundance of caution.
• FSIS is continuing around-the clock investigation and has determined
the points of distribution for the entire recalled product.
• All of the primary, secondary and tertiary establishments that
may have received product subject to this recall have been contacted
by FSIS compliance officers. All have acknowledged being contacted about
the recall by their suppliers. All have confirmed securing whatever
product they had upon notification of the recall and making their customers
aware of the recall as well.
• FSIS will now focus its efforts toward verifying the return
and destruction of the recalled products.
• Recall effectiveness checks have determined that product was
sent to six states. Those states are Washington, Oregon, California,
Nevada, Idaho and Montana. Alaska, Hawaii and Guam did not receive any
of the products subject to recall.
Q: What is the significance of a “Class II” designated
A: FSIS' designation of this recall as Class II is due to the
extremely low likelihood that the beef being recalled contains the infectious
agent that causes BSE.
According to scientific evidence, the tissues of highest infectivity
are the brain, spinal cord, and distal ileum, which were removed from
the rest of the animal’s carcass at slaughter. Therefore, the
meat produced would not be expected to be infected or have an adverse
public health impact, but are being recalled out of an abundance of
Q: Will the recalled beef be tested to determine if it contains
any central nervous system tissue and if it is positive, will it be
tested for BSE?
A: No. There is no BSE test for muscle tissue. Tests can only
be conducted on grain tissue.
Q: Is there a phone number consumers can call with questions
about meat products?
A: Consumers with other food safety questions can phone the
toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline. The hotline
is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m.
to 4 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), Monday through Friday. Recorded food
safety messages are available 24 hours a day.