Apr 25, 2012  |  Today's News

This week's discovery of a positive case of BSE means that there is a new and timely capability for the anti-agriculture folks to pounce on food safety and beef and dairy production. Livestock are a key customer of corn farmers, so as you have a chance to talk about this, remember that linkage so you have a relevant part of the conversation. Here's the latest information provided from the IL Beef Association.

Newest BSE Update


We want to continue to keep you updated on the confirmed case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in California. The news about this has sparked significant traditional media and social media coverage, which has been fairly balanced and factual. Tuesday evening, every major network covered this story in their hourly news segments, including a segment on CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC World News. This morning, the Today Show, Good Morning America and CBS This Morning all covered this story and were again, fairly balanced. The majority of the coverage notes that there is no public health risk from eating beef or drinking milk and that the U.S. food supply is safe. Coverage has largely quoted U.S. Department of Agriculture Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr.  John Clifford and other government and academic officials that reassure the safety of the beef supply and depict the BSE discovery as evidence that the nation's safeguards are working properly.

Veterinarian Tom Talbot , National Cattlemen's Beef Association Cattle Health and Well-being Committee Chairman Tom and Dr. Guy Loneragan, epidemiologist and Professor of Food Safety and Public Health and at Texas Tech University, were quoted in several articles, including Reuters , Bloomberg News and an Associated Press article, which has been re-posted in several places, including .

In terms of social media, the conversation on social media has also been rather balanced, with most tweets or links linking to news stories. The term "mad cow" hit the top ten United States Twitter trends yesterday, with the term being mentioned about 20 times a minute. It only stayed within the top ten Twitter trends for a few minutes.


Why is BSE extremely rare in the United States? 


The United States started taking preventative steps against BSE in 1989.  BSE is not a risk in this country because significant actions were taken well before there was an opportunity for this disease to take hold. 

BSE can only be spread through contaminated feed and, in 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with the full support of the beef industry, banned from cattle feed such protein supplements that could spread BSE.  BSE is not a contagious disease. 

USDA’s ongoing BSE surveillance program tests approximately 40,000 high-rish cattle annually, bringing the total of tested animals to more than 1 million since the program began.  A scientific analysis of seven years of surveillance data found the estimated prevalence of BSE in the United States to be less than one infected animal per 1 million adult cattle.

The already low risk in this country, coupled with an effective feed ban supports the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis projections that, if BSE currently exists in the United States, it is extremely rare.

What about the susceptibility of other animals?


Dogs, birds, reptiles, and horses are not known to be susceptible to the infectious agent that causes BSE in cattle.  However, cats are susceptible.  Approximately 90 cats in the UK and several cats in other European countries were diagnosed with the feline version of BSE, or FSE.

Currently in the U.S., some animal products that are prohibited from cattle feed are acceptable for use in pet food.  Such products include meat and bone mean, for example.  However, FDA believes that the safeguards it has put into place (i.e. ruminant feed rule) to prevent BSE in the U.S. have also protected cats.  To date, no case of FSE has been found in the U.S. FDA continues to review these safeguards to be sure they are adequate.