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Investigation into BSE positive cow in Alabama comes to conclusion

Commissioner Ron Sparks has announced that the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have completed their epidemiological investigation regarding a cow that tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Alabama in March.

The results indicate that the positive animal, called the index animal, was a red crossbreed. This animal was non-ambulatory on the farm, known as the index farm, and examined by a local, private veterinarian. The veterinarian returned to the farm the following day, euthanized the animal and collected a sample, which was submitted for BSE testing. The animal was buried on the farm at that time and did not enter the animal or human food chain, in accordance with APHIS protocols.

Alabama officials and APHIS excavated the index animal’s carcass and through dentition, an examination of its teeth, determined the animal to be more than 10 years old. It was born prior to the implementation of FDA’s 1997 feed ban that minimizes the risk that a cow might consume feed contaminated with the agent thought to cause BSE.

Alabama state officials and APHIS investigated 36 farms and 5 auction houses and conducted DNA testing on herds that may have included relatives of the index animal. State investigators and APHIS were unable to find any related animals except for the two most recent calves of the index animal. The most recent calf was located at the same farm as the index animal and the second calf died the year before. No other animals of interest were located. The living calf of the BSE-positive animal is currently being held at APHIS’ National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for observation.

The state and federal joint investigation did not reveal the BSE-positive animal’s herd of origin. However, this was not entirely unexpected due to the age of the animal, along with its lack of identifying brands, tattoos and tags. Experience worldwide has shown that it is highly unusual to find BSE in more than one animal in a herd or in an affected animal’s offspring.

To ensure that adequate feed controls were in place in the feed facilities in the immediate geographic area of the index farm, FDA conducted a feed investigation into local feed mills that may have supplied feed to the index animal after the 1997 feed ban. This investigation found that all local feed mills that handle prohibited materials have been and continue to be in compliance with the FDA’s feed ban.

As part of APHIS’ BSE enhanced surveillance program, more than 700,000 samples have been tested since June 2004. To date, only two of these highest risk animals have tested positive for the disease as part of the surveillance program, for a total of three cases of BSE in the United States. While APHIS’ epidemiological investigation did not locate additional animals of interest, it is important to remember that human and animal health in the United States is protected by a system of interlocking safeguards, which ensure the safety of U.S. beef. The most important of these safeguards is the ban on specified risk materials from the food supply and the FDA's 1997 feed ban.

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