Mad cow disease confirmed in state

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The state officially became the site of a dubious milestone Monday, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed an Alabama beef cow had tested positive for mad cow disease.

Without specifying the location of the farm where the infected cow was raised, USDA officials confirmed the presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy – or BSC – in a 10-year-old “brood cow” that had grazed in the state for at least one year. The case is only the third confirmed case of mad cow disease in the United States.

Clarke County Extension Agent Kevin Tucker, who was extension coordinator in Marengo County for seven years, said the case is ominous for the state’s beef industry, but not a huge concern for Alabama’s hamburger- and steak-lovers.

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“From what I understand, she was over 10 years old, and was always on the farm,” he said. “(The cow) was never was taken to stockyard or slaughter facility, so it should be no concern whatsoever for entering the food chain.”

For BSC to spread among cattle, he said, the nervous system tissue – brain and spinal cord – of an infected animal must be eaten by another cow. Likewise, human can only contract the disease by consuming part of the cow’s nervous system.

Until the 1997 mad cow scare in the United Kingdom, cattle feed often contained the ground up remains of other cattle. But a ban on “byproduct proteins,” Tucker said, was enacted as a response to the scare. The infected Alabama cow, according to Tucker and the USDA, never entered the food supply of either cattle or humans.

The overall risk to Alabama cattle farmers, Tucker said, is “virtually none.”

“And even more important, it is no risk whatsoever to (beef) consumers,” he added. “It’s an animal health issue, not a food safety issue.”