1. What is BSE?

    Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), sometimes referred to as “Mad Cow” disease, was identified in an outbreak in England in the mid-1980s. It is one of a family of brain-destroying diseases with variations that can afflict cattle, sheep, deer, elk, minks, and yes, even humans.


  2. In the most recent case, did the bad beef get into grocery stores?

    No. Cattle that are considered “at risk” are tested at the packers– before the meat ever gets into our food supply. These are older animals, or animals that may exhibit signs of neurological distress.


  3. Can I cook the BSE out of my hamburger?

    We know cooking meat to the right temperature kills bacteria that lead to food poisoning, but BSE is not a bacteria – it is a infectious particle called a prion. Also, prions only seem to live in the spinal cords and brains… not in the meat.  According to FDA regulations, spinal cord and brain tissue are removed from the carcass before processing and are not used for human consumption.


  4. Is there BSE in milk?
    No, milk and dairy products do not contain or spread BSE. The infectious prions that transmit BSE are found in neurological tissues, such as brains and spinal cords.

  5. My kid is going on a farm field trip? Is he safe?
    Yes. You can’t “catch mad cow” by touching a farm animal. BSE is not transmitted through contact. The infectious prions are found in nervous system tissues.

  6. How can I protect my family?

    The U.S. beef supply is safe.  The surveillance program established has worked, and an animal that has been confirmed to have BSE, never entered the food chain. 


  7. Where did BSE come from?

    The disease can develop spontaneously in cattle or humans, but that is rare. The most recent case (April 2012) is one of those naturally occurring and spontaneous incidents. In fact, three of the four cases in the United States are spontaneous, otherwise known as “atypical.”

    The second way a cow can contract BSE is by eating feed made from other infected ruminants (cattle).  At one time, spinal cords and other parts of a butchered cow were used as a protein source for other cattle. That helped spread BSE and led to the outbreak in Europe more than 20 years ago. After learning more about BSE, the entire farming community stopped using this practice.

    In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration joined the safeguard measures and banned the use of most mammal-based protein in feed for cows, goats, and sheep.


  8. Can they test my meat for BSE?

    There is no ability to test the meat.  Confirmatory tests for BSE involve microscopic inspection of brain tissue of the affected animal. The USDA has created a strictly-regulated surveillance team of veterinarians and food experts that can test the brains of slaughtered cattle, looking for a misshapen form of protein called a prion. There are no tests for ground beef or other meat products.

    The USDA tests about 40,000 high-risk cattle every year, bringing the total of tested animals to more than 1 million since the surveillance program started. Some are randomly tested; some are not. Veterinarians inspect every single sick or injured cow, to make certain any suspect animal is examined more closely and does not enter our food chain.   The tissue samples must be sent for testing of BSE at slaughter.


  9. Is  BSE Surveillance working?

    Yes, BSE is fast approaching eradication! According to USDA, there were only 29 cases of BSE worldwide in 2011, none of which were in the U.S. 


Sources:
United States Department of Agriculture, Illinois Beef Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, Web MD, USA Today, National Milk Producers Federation


Top 9 Questions You Have About BSE, "Mad Cow"