Preventing “mad cow disease”

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called "mad cow disease,” is a neurological (brain) disease that can affect cattle. Most cases of the disease have occurred in Europe, and steps to protect cattle – and humans – from the disease have been effective in reducing BSE incidence.

The world’s leading scientists, medical professionals and government officials agree that BSE is not a public or animal health risk in the United States. In fact, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in 2007 classified the United States as a controlled-risk country in regard to BSE, meaning U.S. regulatory controls are effective and beef from cattle of all ages is safe.

Since 1989, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has implemented an internationally-recognized system of safeguards to ensure a healthy cattle herd and food supply that is safe from BSE. Specific steps have been taken to prevent BSE, including:

  • Implementing the Ruminant Feed Ban. BSE is spread through certain cattle feed ingredients, which have been banned in the United States since 1997.
  • Removing specified risk materials. Tissues that could potentially carry BSE in an animal – including the brain and spinal cord – must be removed from older cattle prior to processing, and therefore are not allowed into the food or cattle feed supplies.
  • Ongoing surveillance. The United States began an active BSE surveillance program in 1990 and, since its inception, more than 1 million cattle at greatest risk for BSE have been tested.

To learn more about “mad cow disease,” please view

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