Animal didn't have 'mad cow' disease, USDA says

| 11/24/2004

A possible case of “mad cow” disease reported earlier this month by U.S. officials was a false alarm.

John Clifford, deputy administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, announced this week that the cow involved in the report tested negative for bovine spongiform encephalopathy – the formal name of mad cow disease.

Previous cases of the disease had a significant impact on truckers who haul cattle.

In 2003, a cow in the province of Alberta was diagnosed with the illness. It led the U.S. government to cut off beef shipments across the U.S.-Canadian border, severely impacting the beef industry – and the truckers who haul the beef.

When U.S. Department of Agriculture officials initially reported on Nov. 18 about the case that was ruled a false alarm this week, they released few details about the cow.

At that time, Andrea Morgan, associate deputy administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in a prepared statement that the department had been notified of “an inconclusive BSE test result was received on a rapid screening test used as part of our enhanced BSE surveillance program.”

Ag Department officials sent samples from the test to USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories, the lab that handles confirmation of tests for the disease.

“The Nov. 18 sample is the first that has tested inconclusive under an APHIS protocol announced in August,” Clifford said. That protocol calls for a public announcement if a cow shows up in two screenings. However, Clifford said that “on Nov. 23, they reported the second IHC test was negative,” and that the cow was clear of the illness.

The first U.S. case was detected in Washington state in December of 2003. In response to that announcement, eight nations in Asia banned American beef imports, and some – including Japan, the No. 1 importer of U.S. beef, South Korea, the No. 2 importer and No. 3 U.S. beef customer Mexico – recalled what was already on the shelves.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle, according to the USDA Web site. Worldwide, more than 180,000 cases have been reported since it was first diagnosed in 1986 in Great Britain. More than 95 percent of all mad cow cases have been in that country.

There is no treatment, the USDA said, and all affected cattle die.

The human form of the disease is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. That illness is thought to be caused by people eating parts of an affected cow such as the brain and spinal cord.