The U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief veterinarian, John Clifford, announced this afternoon that a case of mad cow disease was detected in a dairy cow in California's Central Valley.
Although the dairy cow was in a rendering plant, the USDA official stressed she was there to be processed into a non-food product, and that at no time was she destined for the food supply. Additionally, Bloomberg reports, Clifford assured reporters that mad cow can not be transmitted through milk.
This is the fourth report of mad cow since 2003. Food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler lists the others here.
Officials did not indicate exactly how the cow contracted the disease but said that the "atypical" form detected indicates it was unlikely to be from contaminated feed.
It remains unclear what the detection means for the possibility of more cases, but Clifford stressed, "There is really no concern for alarm here with regards to this animal. Both human health and animal health are protected with regards to this issue."
But Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, is not so convinced.
He says "Consumers Union is seriously concerned" by the development, which he says raises three important issues including:
"First, the USDA testing program for mad cow disease is way too small. USDA only tests some 40,000 cows a year of the millions slaughtered annually. So we really don't know if this is an isolated unusual event or whether there are more cases in US beef. Our monitoring program is just too small.
"Second, detection of BSE is needlessly hindered by the fact that USDA prohibits private companies from testing their own beef. Private testing could augment USDA testing and provide an extra measure of monitoring and assurance of safety to consumers. USDA only tests cattle that are sent to the renderer and doesn’t test at slaughterhouses. We find it hard to understand why USDA prohibits private companies from testing.
"Third, the ruminant to ruminant feed ban in the US to prevent spread of mad cow disease is inadequate. Cows can't be fed to other cows, which is a good thing. But remains of cows can be fed to pigs and chickens, and pig and chicken remains can be fed back to cows. We believe this could allow for the spread of mad cow disease."
More answers may be forthcoming as the USDA conducts what Clifford calls, "a comprehensive epidemiological investigation in conjunction with California animal and public health officials and the FDA."
Late Tuesday afternoon, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack released this very emphatic assurance on cattle safety in the U.S., and the USDA posted a video of the Clifford statements HERE.
“The beef and dairy in the American food supply is safe and USDA remains confident in the health of U.S. cattle," Vilsack said. "The systems and safeguards in place to protect animal and human health worked as planned to identify this case quickly, and will ensure that it presents no risk to the food supply or to human health. USDA has no reason to believe that any other U.S. animals are currently affected, but we will remain vigilant and committed to the safeguards in place.”
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