Following Tuesday's announcement that a cow in the state of Washington has tested positive for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), the Minnesota Beef Council (MBC) is aggressively assuring consumers that U.S. beef is completely safe to eat.
Facts on BSE have been distributed by MBC to all major Minnesota media outlets, retaiers and the foodservice. The key message for consumers is that the U.S. beef supply continues to be the safest in the world because of an extensive set of safeguards that have been put in place.
"The diagnosis of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in one cow in the state of Washington proves the U.S. disease surveillance system is working, resulting in a meat supply that is safe," says MBC Chairman Dennis Swan. "Due to the strength of the U.S. system and its ability to prevent the spread of BSE, this is an animal disease story, not a food safety problem," said Swan, a beef producer from Balaton in southwest Minnesota. "Consumers should continue to eat beef with complete confidence."
Within minutes of USDA's announcement about the single case of BSE, spokespeople from the Minnesota Beef Council, the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association (MSCA), Minnesota Department of Animal Health, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, University of Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association conducted scores of interviews designed to reassure American consumers about the safety of US beef. This public relations effort will continue as USDA traces the origin of the cow and investigates the sources of feed consumed by the animal.
Included in conversations and interviews with the media were explanations of BSE and the system in place to prevent any potential spread of the disease. A focal point of the media interviews was discussion of the "firewall" that has been put in place to keep our beef supply safe.
The following safeguards are in place to prevent a repeat of the situation that occurred in Great Britain in the 1990's:
*The U.S. banned imports of cattle and bovine products from countries with BSE beginning in 1989.
*A surveillance program for BSE was initiated in 1990, making the U.S. the first country in the world without BSE to test cattle for the disease. The surveillance system targets all cattle with any signs of neurological disorder, as well as those over 30 months of age and animals that are non-ambulatory.
*The third firewall in the system is a 1997 Food and Drug Administration mandatory ban on feeding ruminant-derived meat and bone meal supplements to cattle. This is the component that will prevent any potential spread of BSE to other animals. BSE does not spread from animal to animal, only through feed sources.
Also a part of media discussion was the comprehensive, multi-year risk analysis conducted at Harvard University that concluded that while there is a risk of BSE, the U.S. is prepared to prevent the spread of the disease.
MBC Executive Director, Ron Eustice in a reassuring message for consumers says, "Current science indicates the BSE agent is not found in whole muscle meat, such as steaks and roasts, only in central nervous tissue, which is not commonly consumed in the U.S." It is also important for consumers to understand that BSE does not affect the lactation system. "Therefore milk and milk products are considered safe," adds Eustice.
Additional Facts About BSE:
What is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy?
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE is an incurable and apparently infectious disease that attacks the brain and nervous system of cattle. Symptoms may include stumbling, muscle twitching, quivering, strange behavior, a drop in milk production, the inability to stand, and eventually death.
What causes BSE?
Evidence indicates that BSE likely occurred because U.K. cattle consumed animal feed derived from sheep and other ruminants (animals with four stomach compartments) infected with a neurological disease similar to BSE, called scrapie. Scrapie causes BSE-like symptoms in infected sheep.
How does BSE spread? BSE does not spread from animal to animal or from animal to humans. BSE only spreads to animals through the ingestion of contaminated feed. Scrapie may have "jumped" the species barrier to cattle after the cattle consumed the animal feed rendered with sheep protein.
What has the U.S. done to prevent the spread of BSE?
The U.S. began a surveillance program for BSE in 1990 and was the first country without evidence of the disease to test for it. The surveillance system targets all cattle with any signs of a neurological disorder as well as those over 30 months of age and animals that are non-ambulatory. The U.S. utilizes a "triple firewall" strategy. First, the U.S. protects its borders. Since 1989, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) banned the import of cattle from countries with BSE. Second, the U.S. conducts vigilant surveillance at processing plants. USDA veterinarians are stationed at every U.S. meatpacking plant and check cattle for signs of any disease, including BSE. No animal can be processed for meat without a veterinary inspection. If cattle show any symptoms that could possible indicate BSE, they are removed from the plant and tested. Third, in 1997, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration instituted a mandatory ban on feeding ruminant-derived meat and bone meal supplements to cattle because of their ability to transmit the agent that causes BSE.
Does eating beef from BSE-infected animals make people sick?
Whole muscle cuts such as steaks and roasts are considered totally safe. However, there is evidence that neurological tissue such as brains and spinal cord from an infected animal may cause variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), a neurological disorder similar to classic CJD. None of these tissues (brain and spinal cord) are used in foods for human consumption in the United States. There has been no evidence that BSE is found in skeletal muscle tissues that are consumed by humans. While some 140 cases of vCJD have been diagnosed in the U.K. since 1986, these figures show how rare the disease is, and lend support to the theory that contracting vCJD may require a combination of exposure to BSE and a genetic predisposition to vCJD.
Is milk from an infected cow safe to drink?
BSE does not affect the lactation system, therefore milk and milk products are considered safe.
Additional information on the cow in Washington and the safety of U.S. beef can be found on www.mnbeef.org or www.bseinfo.org .