The fact that the Alabama cow veterinarians detected, and later confirmed, as carrying BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), was likely at least 10 years old may be the best news out of the latest discovery of the disease.

On March 13, officials announced that test results from the USDA laboratory in Iowa confirmed the second such finding in cattle in America since the department began vigorous screening for BSE-infected beef several years ago.

Dr. John Clifford, USDA chief veterinarian, said the cow — which was killed and buried on March 10 — never posed a health risk because it never entered the human or food chains.

“The attending veterinarian has indicated that based on detention, it was an older animal…” Clifford said. “This would indicate that this animal would have been born prior to the implementation of the Food and Drug Administration's 1997 feed ban.”

Ongoing investigations are aimed at learning the cow's heritage and identifying any offspring. Officials say the cow had only been on the particular farm in Alabama for about a year's time.

Clifford added that there's “little science that supports that the disease is transmitted from the dam to the offspring while in the womb.”

Detection of the disease in the older cow, in fact, may have bolstered — or at least sustained — domestic trade efforts to restart beef exports to Asia.

Reuters reported that health officials in Korea and Japan, once the United States' most financially crucial importer of U.S. beef, believe the latest detection is evidence of an effective U.S. screening process.

“It will not affect our procedures for the resumption of beef imports,” Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa was reported saying to journalists on March 14.

South Korean officials indicated it would also remain with a tentative plan to reopen U.S. beef imports, so long as further tests confirm that the cow was born prior to implementation of the United States' screening method.

Clifford said the finding should not affect any ongoing negotiations. “Japan has had 20-plus cases of BSE. And we believe their product is safe with regards to safeguards they've put in place in that country. We have a ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban to protect health in this country as well.”

Clifford emphasized that the USDA's “interlocking safeguards,” still not fully in place, are already working effectively.

“By any measure, the incidence of BSE in this country is extremely low,” he said.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis expressed continual confidence in the safety and quality of U.S. beef products, despite the new disease finding.

He added, “I would also urge the (USDA) Secretary to use his authority to mitigate any negative economic impact this announcement will have on farmers and ranchers.”


e-mail: abell@prismb2b.com