Mad Cow Disease Spreads to California

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that a case of mad cow disease has been discovered in a California farm. This report marks the first time the disease has been reported in the United States since 2006 and could threaten California’s lucrative agriculture industry.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease, is a neurodegenerative disease in cattle that causes a spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cord. Mad cow has a long incubation time, running from 30 months to 8 years, typically strikes cattle at a peak age onset of four to five years, and strikes all breeds of cattle. In the United Kingdom, which has experienced the worst outbreak, nearly 4.5 million cattle were killed in an effort to contain the disease.

Perhaps more frightening, the disease is zoonotic, meaning that it can spread between species. Humans who consume infected meat run the risk of contracting new variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a degenerative, and almost always fatal, brain disease. As of October 2009, 166 people in the United Kingdom have died of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease with 44 deaths reported elsewhere.

John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinary officer reported that the infected cow was discovered at a rendering company and was never intended for human consumption. Clifford stressed that the U.S. food supply is not at risk. The carcass has been quarantined while USDA officials investigate.

The new discovery could put American beef shipments at risk. In 2003, the discovery of mad cow in Washington led to an 82 percent drop in beef shipments as dozens of countries banned U.S. beef products. South Korea has already banned U.S. beef imports in response to the USDA report.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer