Commissioner Ron Sparks and State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) and the USDA have provided an update on their ongoing joint investigation of the cow that died from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Alabama.

Since the investigation began, the ADAI and the USDA have followed multiple leads in the traceback process. At this time, 13 locations and 32 movements of cattle have been examined with 27 of those being substantially completed. Additional investigations of locations and herds will continue. In addition, state and federal officials have confirmed that a black bull calf was born in 2005 to the index animal (the red cow). The calf was taken by the owner to a local stockyard in July 2005 where the calf died. The calf was disposed of in a local landfill and did not enter the human or animal food chain.

Without a premises or animal ID program in place, the traceback process to find the herd of origin of the index cow is time-consuming and difficult. It includes conducting interviews, reviewing of records and documents, and testing of cattle DNA. State and federal officials have discovered several herds of interest and they are planning to use DNA testing to determine DNA linkage between the index cow and the herds. Through the DNA testing of these herds, investigators will attempt to find a genetic path that could lead to the herd of origin. Commissioner Sparks stressed that the DNA testing being conducted on the herds is for genetic markers and is not a test for the disease BSE.

As part of the thorough investigative process, a large number of cattle may be tested in this phase and the number of herds included will continue to grow as the traceback progresses. Leads will be followed by state and federal officials until they are exhausted. Even when an index animal is traced to it’s birth herd, often cohorts of that animal are no longer in that herd. In addition, even if an animal’s cohort has been exposed to the same infective material in feed, the other animals will not necessarily contract BSE.

BSE is not a contagious disease that spreads animal to animal, or animal to human. BSE spreads in cattle through the consumption of feed containing specified risk material (brain and spinal cord) derived from BSE infected cattle. The United States has banned the use of such protein supplements in cattle feed since 1997. Sparks says that beef consumption in this country is safe and there are measures in place to see that it continues to be safe. For example, downer animals are not allowed to enter commerce for human consumption and there is a ban on feeding ruminant derived protein to cattle.