U.S. agriculture officials say they have discovered a second case of mad cow disease, a deadly brain-wasting illness that affects cattle. The officials and the U.S. cattle industry emphasize that the rare case never posed a public health threat.
Eighteen months after the country's first case of mad cow disease, the U.S. Agriculture Department confirms that another has shown up. It was detected earlier this month in a beef cow as part of a program to test cattle considered likely to be infected.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said it is the only case of the disease to appear in U.S. cattle since the agency expanded its surveillance program last year. In that time, it has tested 388,000 head of cattle. "One positive result out of 388,000 tests in our enhanced indicates that the presence of the disease is extremely low in the United States. The fact that this animal was blocked from entering the food supply tells us that our safeguards are working exactly as they should," he said.
The Agriculture Department says the diseased animal, like the 2003 case, was born before the government's 1997 ban on the use of nerve tissue from cattle in cattle feed, the means by which mad cow disease is transmitted between animals. Secretary Johanns says the feed ban helps assure that the disease, also known by the letters BSE, is becoming very rare in the United States. Americans, he says, can and should continue to be confident in their beef supply.
"The same is true for our international friends. I appreciate the calm, the very thoughtful reactions we have heard from many of our trading partners, including Japan and Canada. At a time when some countries are dealing with dozens or even hundreds of cases of BSE, the international community recognizes that the key issue is whether to food supply is protect. Ours clearly is," said Secretrary Johanns.
The U.S. cattle industry, which suffered steep economic losses after the previous mad cow case, issued a statement saying that BSE is not a public health risk in the United States and that it has not been found in beef destined for human and animal consumption.
The 2003 incident caused a global scare that led American beef sales abroad to decline more than 90 percent when dozens of nations halted imports. The latest case comes as Japan, once the largest importer of U.S. beef, is considering easing its restrictions. Taiwan, formerly the sixth largest importer, agreed to end its ban only in March.