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Alabama Cow Has Mad Cow Disease

Cow Never Entered the Animal or Human Food Chains, U.S. Official Says
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 13, 2006 -- An Alabama cow has tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called mad cow disease.

The cow "did not enter the animal or human food chains," says John Clifford, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in a statement posted on the USDA's web site. "I want to emphasize that human and animal health in the United States are protected by a system of interlocking safeguards, and that we remain very confident in the safety of U.S. beef," Clifford says.

The cow is the third U.S. cow confirmed to have BSE. It was a "downer" cow, meaning it couldn't walk before a private veterinarian euthanized it and sent tissue samples to labs for testing. The BSE confirmation came after inconclusive results from earlier tests.

Herd of Origin Being Investigated

The USDA is investigating the cow's herd of origin. The cow's exact age isn't known, but it may have been more than 10 years old and only lived on the Alabama farm for less than a year, Clifford says.

"Experience worldwide has shown us that it is highly unusual to find BSE in more than one animal in a herd or in an affected animal's offspring," Clifford says. "Nevertheless, all animals of interest will be tested for BSE."

The cow's first tests, done at a Georgia lab with a USDA contract, were inconclusive. So the USDA followed up with two more tests done at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

The first of those follow-up tests came back positive for BSE. The second test's results aren't in yet. "USDA considers an animal positive for BSE if either of the two confirmatory tests returns a positive result," Clifford says.

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