When the first native-born North American case of BSE was diagnosed in Canada in May of 2003, the United States closed its northern border to cattle and beef products; cattlemen, dairymen and others directly involved with the cattle industry took an interest. U.S. consumers became more interested in December 2003 when BSE was discovered in a Holstein that had been slaughtered in Lake Moses, Washington. BSE was discovered in this cow because of an existing BSE surveillance program in which suspect animals (including downer cattle) were tested for presence of the prion agent. By the time tests confirmed presence of BSE, the affected dairy cow’s meat had entered the food supply, its risk materials had been rendered, and the meat products distributed. The discovery led to public awareness of the systems and programs that have long been serving to protect both public health and agricultural industries from foreign animal disease.
While a number of cases (18 in Canada and three in the U.S) have been found in North America since 1993 and confirm that BSE is present, the actual number of infected animals present in the cattle population is believed to be extremely low. The United States and Canada have conducted surveillance for BSE since 1992 at rates that have met or exceeded international standards. There is no doubt that the steadily increasing intensity of surveillance has contributed to the probability of finding a case of BSE.
PROTECTIVE REGULATORY PROGRAMS
The Federal government has a number of programs to protect public health and the beef industry from BSE, most dating from the early 1990s.
Preventing the spread of BSE to, and in, the cattle population:
Ruminant feed ban: The primary initiative for preventing the spread of BSE to U.S. cattle and within the cattle population, should it get into the country, is the ruminant feed ban. The inclusion of rendered mammalian protein in feed for ruminants was prohibited in August 1997. FDA extended the feed ban to prohibit the inclusion of high risk cattle materials in feed for all animal species from October 26, 2009.
Keeping BSE prions out of human food:
Prohibition on “Downers”: Until December 30, 2003, “downer” cattle could be slaughtered for human food once they had passed inspection for signs of disease by a USDA veterinarian, while a sample of brain tissue was taken for BSE analysis as part of the surveillance program. Under the newer rule, cattle that are downers for any reason may not be slaughtered for human food.
Getting Central Nervous System (CNS) tissue off the table: Three primary methods of accomplishing this are
- banning the brain and spinal cord tissue of animals 30 months of age or older from the human food supply,
- banning the use of air-gun stunning, which can cause CNS tissue to move into and to contaminate muscle tissue, and
- requiring processors to show routinely that tissue separated from the carcass using advanced meat recovery systems (AMR) does not contain CNS tissue.
Detecting BSE in the US cattle population: After the first US case of BSE in 2003, the government developed an enhanced surveillance program to determine the probability of BSE in United States cattle. Under the enhanced surveillance program, 647,045 samples were collected from 5,776 unique sites across the United States between June 1, 2004 and March 17, 2006. Of these samples, two were confirmed positive (0.0003% of the sampled population). The USDA used this data to develop a maintenance surveillance program testing approximately 40,00 animal per year.
Click here to learn more about the USDA Enhanced Surveillance Program and the monthly totals of animals tested.
Responding efficiently to the detection of BSE: The federal government has a BSE Response Plan that defines the actions agencies will take when BSE is detected – to contain the disease, trace the source, identify potential spreaders, indemnify farmers and protect public health. The degree of their success has a direct impact on beef economic markets.
The highly integrated nature of the North American beef industry requires that the United States, Canada and Mexico adopt a coordinated approach to address both the regulatory and trade aspects of BSE challenges. Maintaining consumer confidence in the safety of beef is fundamental to the management of BSE and remains a top priority among the three governments endeavoring to improve the international approach to BSE.
For more information and resources on this topic, please visit Federal Initiatives.
National Animal Health Laboratory Network: This laboratory network was developed in 2002 as a way to improve the testing and surveillance of domestic animal diseases, such as BSE, that are a potential threat to animal and public health and the national economy. For more information and resources on this topic, please visit the EDEN NAHLN page.
Information in this section came from the following sources:
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency