Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease)

FAQ Index


    What is BSE or mad cow disease?

    BSE is a class of degenerative neurological diseases that is characterized by a very long incubation period and 100 percent mortality. BSE affects cattle. Cattle affected by BSE experience progressive degeneration of the nervous system. The animals may display changes in temperament, such as nervousness or aggression, abnormal posture, lack of coordination and difficulty in rising. Decreased milk production, or loss of body weight despite, continued appetite, also occur. Affected cattle die.

    Is BSE related to foot and mouth disease?

    BSE and foot and mouth disease are completely unrelated diseases of livestock.

    FMD is not considered a human health threat, but can cause severe disruption in the agriculture industry.

    BSE is a class of degenerative neurological diseases that is characterized by a very long incubation period and 100 percent mortality. BSE affects cattle. The cause of BSE is not clearly defined, although scientists believe there is a correlation between the incidence of BSE and the use of brain, spinal cord and other organs, in cattle feed.

    The US Food & Drug Administration has banned the use of animal protein in cattle feed.

    What is the government doing to make sure BSE does not occur in the US?

    The US has never had a case of BSE, and we are working proactively to keep it that way. In cooperation with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), APHIS has taken stringent measures in prevention, education, surveillance, and response. Specifically:
    • Since 1989 APHIS has prohibited the importation of live ruminants from countries where BSE is known to exist in native cattle. Other products derived from ruminants, such as fetal bovine serum, bone meal, meat-and-bone meal, blood meal, offal, fats, and glands, are also prohibited from entry, except under special conditions or under USDA permit for scientific or research purposes.

    • On December 12, 1997, APHIS extended these restrictions to include all of the countries in Europe due to concerns about widespread risk factors and inadequate surveillance for BSE.

    • As of December 7, 2000, USDA prohibited all imports of rendered animal protein products, regardless of species, from Europe. The restriction applies to products originating, rendered, processed or otherwise associated with European products. USDA is taking this emergency action to prevent potentially cross-contaminated products from entering the United States. The same type of rendered product from ruminant origin has been prohibited from BSE-infected countries since 1989.

    • Most recently, USDA confiscated imported Belgain milking sheep that had tested positive for a form of BSE that affects sheep, as well as several herds of cattle that were imported from Europe prior to the federal ban.

    Why should we be concerned about BSE?

    BSE is a member of a class of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). The TSE family of diseases includes scrapie, which affects sheep and goats; transmissible mink encephalopathy; feline spongiform encephalopathy; chronic wasting disease of deer and elk; and in humans, kuru, both classic and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome, and fatal familial insomnia. TSEs have also been reported in captive exotic ruminants, and exotic and domestic cats. The agent isolated from several of these cases is indistinguishable from BSE in cattle suggesting the occurrence of TSEs in these species resulted from BSE-contaminated feed.