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Surveillance keeps U.S. beef safe

No cases of bovine spongiform encephalophathy (BSE), widely known as mad cow disease, have been confirmed in the United States in the past 12 years with active testing programs in place at both slaughter firms and on the farm.

"Surveillance and testing of cows is a good protective measure of keeping our beef safe," said Dr. Buddy Faries, Extension program leader for veterinary medicine. "Any cows that show neurological signs, are weak or thin in body condition are tested at slaughter. These animals do not enter the food chain."

The statements came after the Canadian government reported the first case of BSE in its country in more than a decade. A cow in Alberta tested positive for the disease after tests were taken from the cow after slaughter. The meat did not enter the food chain, Canadian officials said.

Faries noted some important facts about the surveillance systems and about mad cow disease:

  • Surveillance systems in the U.S. and in Canada have been in place to monitor cattle for diseases and unwholesomeness. Surveillance testing reassures the U.S. beef supply is safe.
  • All cows that show neurological signs, weak or thin body condition are tested at slaughter. These cows do not enter the food chain.
  • The beef itself isn't infected with BSE, only the brain and spinal cord. No evidence of infection detected in milk or muscle tissue.
  • No brains or spinal cords are ground in hamburger meat in the U.S.
  • Surveillance testing, the ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants (feeding rendered cattle, sheep, goat or deer meat or bone meal back to beef cattle) and the prohibition on importing animals and meat products from BSE-affected countries has provided assurance that the U.S. and Texas will have healthy animals and wholesome meat products.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has closed the border to the importation of Canadian cattle and meat products.

The eight-year-old Canadian cow that tested positive for the disease was part of a 150-head herd. The affected herd would be tested and depopulated, Canadian officials said.

In January, the cow was condemned due to unwholesomeness on slaughter and brain tissue was submitted for laboratory testing under the BSE surveillance program. Tests conducted at a laboratory in the United Kingdom confirmed infection of BSE in the cow's brain after initial tests were run at a Canadian laboratory.

"These cows are regularly tested and taken out of the food chain," Faries explained. "No brains or spinal cords are ground for hamburger here in the U.S. Continuous surveillance is the means to detect possible cases of disease like we've seen happen in Canada. Mad cow disease is not in the United States and not likely to occur due to the compliance of the regulatory biosecurity measures currently enforced by USDA and the Texas Animal Health Commission."

For more information about mad cow disease, go to

Fannin is a writer for the Texas Cooperative Extension Service.

e-mail: [email protected]

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