Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
On Tuesday, May 20, the Canadian government notified United States officials that a cow in a remote area of Alberta had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as Mad Cow Disease). This raised questions about BSE, its potential human health impact, and steps being taken to prevent it in America. The Alberta BSE case appears to be an isolated incident. Investigations continue with daily briefings from Canadian authorities. Based on what scientists currently know, the risk to U.S. consumers appears to be very low thanks to preventive actions taken by federal and state officials over the last 15 years. Although fewer than 150 people worldwide are believed to have contracted variant Creutz-feld-Jakob Disease (variant CJD) from eating BSE-tainted meat products, agriculture and public health officials take the disease very seriously. Since 1989, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state agriculture agencies have implemented an aggressive prevention and monitoring program to keep BSE out of the U.S. These efforts include the following. o To keep BSE from entering the country, the USDA has restricted the importation of live ruminants (a category that includes cattle, sheep and goats) and certain ruminant products from any country known to have BSE since 1989. This list now includes Canada. o In 1990, the U.S. started active BSE surveillance efforts. Since then, veterinary diagnostic laboratories across the country and USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories examine thousands of cattle brains each year submitted from animals displaying signs of neurological disorders either at slaughter or on the farm, or from animals that have died on the farm. Nearly 20,000 of these highest-risk animals were tested in 2002, and none came back positive for BSE. o Because evidence suggests BSE may have developed in Great Britain by feeding contaminated meat and bone meal to cattle, the FDA since 1997 has prohibited the feeding of mammalian proteins to cattle and other ruminants. Minnestoa Department of Agriculture officials conduct ongoing inspections of feed manufacturers to ensure that this federal rule is being followed locally. o The U.S. government and producer groups have partnered on educational programs that train producers and veterinarians in the clinical signs and diagnosis of BSE. Federal foreign animal disease diagnosticians have trained in Great Britain in BSE recognition. In addition, BSE fact sheets, risk assessments, and reviews have been sent to state and federal veterinarians, private practitioners, other industries and producers to keep them updated and educated on the latest BSE research. There is a wealth of information on BSE and related topics on the Internet. For more details on how the United States and Minnesota have kept their food supply safe from BSE, and for general BSE information, check out the following Web sites. o Minnesota Department of Agriculture www.mda.state. mn.us o U.S. Department of Agriculture www.usda.gov o U.S. Food and Drug Administration www.fda.gov You can also contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at (800) 967-AGRI.