Today’s Ag Perspective’s Podcast features a conversation that Senior Farm and Ranch Broadcaster Ron Hays had with former USDA Secretary of Ag Ann Veneman had about the first case of BSE that was found in the US in December 2003.
In the mid-1990s, thousands of cattle in the United Kingdom (UK) were affected by an outbreak of a fatal neurological disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly referred to as “mad cow disease.” Concern grew when it was discovered that some people who had eaten meat from infected cows had gotten a version of the disease called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD).
BSE, which is invariably fatal, is caused by a malformed protein that is not neutralized by high heat or other measures commonly used to kill bacteria, viruses, or other organisms. As a result of the UK outbreak, imports of British beef were banned from the United States and other countries.
However, in May 2003, the first North American case of BSE was reported in Alberta, Canada, sending shockwaves through the highly integrated North American beef supply chain. The United States, along with many other countries around the world, immediately closed its border to Canadian beef and cattle.
Despite the import bans, in late December 2003, APHIS confirmed the first U.S. case of BSE in a dairy cow that had been imported from Canada to Washington State. The ‘cow that stole Christmas,’ as then Veterinary Services Deputy Administrator Dr. W. Ron DeHaven put it, sent the agency into full-on emergency mode. Holiday plans were canceled, and hundreds of APHIS employees were mobilized to determine the source of the disease, ensure that no animals from the affected herd had entered the food supply, and—along with other USDA agencies and the Food and Drug Administration—implement new prevention and surveillance measures.
Secretary Veneman and Hays talk about those days twenty years ago from the USDA and Bush Administration perspective.