The USDA has discovered that a six-year-old mixed-breed beef cow in Florida was infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease, according to government and industry officials.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) put out a news release Wednesday morning confirming the discovery, which Agri-Pulse reported a day earlier. It also confirmed Agri-Pulse's report on Tuesday that the animal suffered from the rare "atypical" type of BSE that is believed to develop randomly in cows and thus was not expected to have any effect on beef trade.

It’s the first detection of the deadly brain-wasting disease in the U.S. since July of last year, when BSE was found in a 11-year-old cow in Alabama. As was the case in Alabama, the infected cow in Florida was not slaughtered for food and no meat from the animal entered the human food supply, APHIS said.

Officials at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association were not available for immediate comment, but after the Alabama case NCBA assured the public of its safety. “BSE is not contagious …,” an NCBA official said at the time. “The bottom line: all U.S. beef is safe. USDA’s ongoing BSE surveillance program has tested more than 1 million cattle since the program began. The incidence of BSE in the United States is extremely low, and will remain so. The United States currently has a ‘Negligible BSE Risk’ status from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) – the lowest possible risk in the world.” 

While BSE is transmissible to humans if they consume contaminated material, USDA has taken extensive steps to insure those types of bovine materials like brain and spinal cord are excluded from all food. The same materials are banned from livestock feed to prevent animal-to-animal transmission.

It is normal procedure for the USDA to track down any offspring from an infected cow that may be carrying the disease and the department is doing that now, but have not yet found any, according to a source. The effort is complicated by the fact that the  Florida cow has been bought and sold several times in the past couple years.

In a 2012 BSE discovery in a dairy cow in California, APHIS tracked down two of the animal’s offspring, neither of which was found to be positive for the disease.

APHIS now tests about 20,000 cows per year for BSE. That’s down from 40,000 cows from 2007 through 2015.

There are two types of BSE. The “classical” type is believed to be spread through feed that is contaminated with infected bovine material from rendered animals. The “atypical” variety is not associated with feed. Atypical BSE “seems to arise rarely and spontaneously,” according to APHIS. 

“Regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have prohibited the inclusion of mammalian protein in feed for cattle and other ruminants since 1997 and have also prohibited high risk tissue materials in all animal feed since 200F9,” according to the agency.

APHIS also noted that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) recognizes the U.S. as "neglible risk" for BSE.

"As noted in the OIE guidelines for determining this status," OIE says, "atypical BSE cases do not impact official BSE risk status recognition as this form of the disease is believed to occur spontaneously in all cattle populations at a very low rate. Therefore, this finding of an atypical case will not change the negligible risk status of the United States, and should not lead to any trade issues." 

The infected cow is the sixth confirmed BSE case in the U.S. The first, in 2003, was in a cow born in Canada. 

(Updates story with APHIS comment.)

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