WASHINGTON, March 23, 2016 -- French livestock officials are awaiting test results on tissue samples from a cow suspected of having bovine spongiform encephalopathy. If confirmed, it would be the country’s first case of BSE since 2004.

France is Europe’s biggest cattle producer and there is concern that a new case of BSE – more commonly known as mad cow disease -- could affect exports in an industry already struggling with low prices. Last year French beef exports totaled just over $1 billion, trade ministry data show.

The suspect cow died on a farm in the Ardennes region of France. Preliminary testing on the carcass on March 17 indicated the presence of BSE. Tissue samples have been sent to an official European BSE reference laboratory in the UK for further testing. Officials said it could be several days yet before results are available.

Confirmation of the disease could prompt the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to reassess France’s official BSE risk level. Only last year the country regained the safest rating of “negligible risk.” South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Singapore lifted embargos on French beef following the OIE decision.

BSE is a brain-wasting disease that is fatal to cattle. Scientists say it is usually transmitted through animal feed containing tissue from infected animals. Most countries, including the U.S. and Canada, ended that practice years ago. BSE has also been linked to the incurable variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, which destroys brain tissue.

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There have been four confirmed cases of BSE in the U.S. The first was in 2003, in Washington state, in a dairy cow that was born in Canada. The most recent case was in 2012, in a dairy cow in central California. The OIE upgraded the U.S. to a “negligible risk” rating in 2013. It was previously rated as a “controlled risk” country.

A spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association noted that while France is approved to export beef to the U.S., the U.S. hasn’t purchased any of the meat from France since March 2010. Future export eligibility, he added, would be based on France’s OIE risk status.


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