U.S. may be upgraded to “negligible” risk status for BSE

The United States soon could be moved to a “negligible” status for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow) – a lower status than the current level of “controlled”.

The move comes after the U.S. submitted an application to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) last year seeking the change from “controlled” to “negligible,” which describes the risk status for BSE, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Negligible” is the lowest level of risk under OIE and indicates the U.S. has conducted thorough testing and surveillance in its domestic cattle herd.

OIE decides a nation’s risk status based on the steps the nation takes in managing BSE, such as a ruminant-to-ruminant feed ban, strong surveillance protocols and stringent import controls of animals and animal products from nations at risk of BSE, USDA notes.

The status change will not become final until the OIE’s General Assembly meeting in Paris, France in May, where it is expected to pass.

“I am very pleased with this decision and recommendation by the OIE’s Scientific Commission. This is a significant achievement for the United States, American beef producers and businesses, and federal and state partners who work in coordination to maintain a system of three interlocking safeguards against BSE that protect our public and animal health. Being classified as negligible risk for BSE by the OIE will also greatly support our efforts to increase exports of U.S. beef and beef products,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. “In recommending that the United States receive negligible risk classification, the Commission stated that the risk assessments submitted for their evaluation were robust and comprehensive, and that both our surveillance for, and safeguards against, BSE are strong. U.S. beef and beef products are of the highest quality, wholesome and produced to the highest safety standards in the world.”

The U.S. has several safeguards in place to prevent BSE, including removing risk materials from slaughtered animals, a ban on feeding animal products to other animals, and a strong surveillance program.

BSE is a progressive, neurological disease that causes aggression, loss of coordination, decreased milk production and, eventually, death.

Early last year, the U.S.’ fourth case of BSE was confirmed in a California dairy cow. The cow was not destined for human consumption. BSE is not transmitted through milk.

Safeguards against the disease have been credited with the dramatic drop in BSE cases – there were only 29 cases globally in 2011, down from a high of 37,311 in 1992.

In 2004, the USDA used Neogen’s GeneSeek laboratory to verify the origin of the first animal diagnosed with BSE in the U.S.

For more BSE coverage from Neogen blog, click here.

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