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Mad Cow Disease Detected In Alabama

A case of mad cow disease has been found in a cow in Alabama.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists confirmed Tuesday that an 11-year-old cow found in an Alabama livestock market suffered from the neurologic cattle disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The animal “at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States,” according to the USDA.

The case is the fifth confirmed detection of BSE in the U.S., though none in the Midwest. The last cow found with BSE in the U.S. was discovered in 2012 in California, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The form of BSE found in the Alabama cow is known as “atypical BSE,” and is less of a concern than what is known as “classical BSE,” which cattle can contract by eating contaminated feed. Atypical BSE generally occurs in older cattle and “seems to arise rarely and spontaneously in all cattle populations,” according to the USDA.  

BSE is not contagious to humans or to livestock. Humans, however, can contract a version of BSE called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) by eating meat from an infected animal. There is no indication at this point that the U.S. food supply is comprised.

Iowa State University veterinarian Grant Dewell says the USDA monitors for all forms of BSE in the wake of a BSE outbreak in the United Kingdom, which began in the 1980s.

“We’re always cautious because we don’t want classical BSE to start being transmitted and spread in the U.S., (as) happened in Europe,” Dewell says.

Safeguards such as routine surveillance and changes to cattle feed are credited with keeping the disease at bay.

When tests detected BSE in an American beef cow in 2003, many countries – including big trading partners like China, Japan and South Korea – stopped importing U.S. beef, decimating the vital export market for U.S. beef producers. Many of those countries have since resumed importing U.S. beef that comply with certain rules.

The discovery of BSE in Alabama comes a little more than a month after American beef producers began sending beef to China after a 14-year hiatus.

Copyright 2020 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit .

Jeremy Bernfeld
Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.
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