Recent Mad Cow Disease Scare in Brazil, Now US!
A very uncommon occurrence of mad cow disease has been identified in the United States. This fatal neurological disorder, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was detected at a slaughter plant in South Carolina. However, there is no danger to humans or other cattle. This marks only the seventh confirmed case of this highly lethal disease ever reported in the United States since it was first discovered in 2003.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials released a statement on May 19, announcing the discovery. A 5-year-old beef cow from a Tennessee herd tested positive for BSE after undergoing routine testing due to being deemed unfit for slaughter.
The USDA representatives clarified that this particular cow never entered the food supply chain and posed no risk to human health or the U.S. food supply. While an investigation is ongoing to determine the exact cause of the infection, it is currently believed to be an isolated case.
BSE is a progressive neurological disorder in cattle caused by abnormal folding of proteins called prions. These prions affect proteins in the brain and central nervous system, leading to various symptoms such as behavioral changes, coordination problems, weight loss, decreased milk production, and ultimately, death.
There are two forms of BSE: classical BSE, which occurs when a cow consumes infected material in its feed, and atypical BSE, which spontaneously develops in older cattle. The recently identified case involved atypical BSE, which is less concerning for animal welfare officials.
Classical BSE was first identified in the United Kingdom in 1986 and reached its peak in January 1993, with approximately 1,000 cases reported per week. It was later discovered that the disease was transmitted through infected brain and spinal tissues present in the cows’ feed. In response, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of ruminant protein in feed for other ruminants in 1997 and later prohibited the use of certain high-risk cattle tissues in feed for all animals.
Atypical BSE appears to arise spontaneously in older cattle, typically over 8 years old, which makes the emergence of the disease in a 5-year-old cow unusual. The triggers for atypical BSE are currently unknown.
The symptoms of either form of BSE can take three to six years to manifest after infection, and there is currently no cure or vaccine available for the disease.
While humans cannot contract BSE directly, they can develop a similar and equally fatal prion disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) by consuming food products derived from infected cattle. However, cases of vCJD are extremely rare, with only 232 people worldwide diagnosed with it as of 2019.
The recent case of mad cow disease in the U.S. will not change the country’s recognized status by the World Organisation for Animal Health as having a negligible risk for BSE, according to USDA representatives.
Swine flu outbreaks
Amidst an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Meghalaya, the government has reassured the public that there have been no human deaths caused by the disease in the state. The Department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary (AH&V) has emphasized that the virus does not pose a threat to human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans.
Dr. Manjunatha C, the Secretary in-charge of the AH&V department, confirmed that only 22 pigs owned by a single individual in Tiehsaw village, West Khasi Hills District, have died from African Swine Fever. As a result, Tiehsaw village has been identified as the epicenter of the outbreak, leading to immediate containment measures to prevent further spread.
In response to misleading reports, Dr. Manjunatha C clarified that the claim of a human fatality in Tiehsaw village made by the media is false, as the person in question is alive. The department urges the public to rely on accurate information and not fall victim to misinformation.
Bird flu continues to spread
South Africa is facing a potential crisis in chicken supply as Brazil, its main source of imported chicken, reports cases of avian influenza in wild birds. The country is heavily dependent on Brazilian imports, and if imports are halted due to avian influenza concerns, it could lead to job losses, price increases, and supply shortages.
The National Agricultural Marketing Council emphasizes that Brazil accounted for up to 75% of South Africa’s imported chicken in 2022. Without a credible replacement partner approved by the government, halting Brazilian imports could have disastrous consequences, particularly for financially vulnerable households relying on affordable animal protein.
Additionally, implementing additional heat treatment protocols for mechanically deboned poultry meat could help maintain a stable supply. Urgent discussions among the government, industry representatives, and businesses are needed to address the situation and provide reassurance to consumers and businesses.