Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)


Cattlemen are committed to providing the safest beef in the world. The U.S. beef industry has worked with government officials and scientists to put implement multiple interlocking safeguards to prevent bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) from taking hold in our country.

In 1990, United States began an active BSE surveillance program and since its inception, more than 1 million cattle at greatest risk for BSE have been tested. USDA’s ongoing BSE surveillance program tests approximately 40,000 high-risk cattle annually. This program is rigorous and exceeds international guidelines by 10 times.

USDA’s Enhanced BSE Surveillance Program was developed to test targeted animals identified as most likely to have the disease. Beginning June 1, 2004, the program tested more than 750,000 cattle and found only two confirmed cases, evidence that our safeguards are working and the prevalence of BSE in the U.S. is extremely low. Testing 268,500 animals can detect BSE at a rate of 1 in 10 million adult cattle at a 99 percent confidence level.

United States obtains “Negligible Risk”

At the 2013 OIE meeting, the Scientific Commission voted to upgrade the United States’ risk classification for BSE to negligible risk status which was very positive news for U.S. cattle producers.

The OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code establishes the BSE risk for a country’s cattle population based on several factors such as risk assessment, active BSE surveillance programs, compulsory notification and identification of all suspect cases of BSE as well as the presence or absence of new BSE cases in the country. Under the OIE Code, the three categories of risk for BSE for a country’s cattle populations are negligible BSE risk, controlled BSE risk and undetermined BSE risk. The lowest risk for the occurrence or transmission of BSE is associated with the “negligible risk” country status. The BSE risk status for a country may carry important implications for trade.

NCBA Negligble Risk Press Release

Enhanced Feed Ban

The collaboration between industry, government and scientists has been successful in implementing and maintaining science-based measures to prevent and reduce the spread of BSE in the United States, including the 1997 Food and Drug Administration ban on feeding cattle the type of animal-derived protein that can spread BSE. This partnership has proven to safeguard both animal and public health and has been based on science and risk analysis.

In 2005, NCBA submitted the BSE prevalence in healthy cattle going to market in the United States, over 30 months of age, must be less than 1 case per 15.4 million cattle. This number is significant because in 2005 it was estimated that there were less than 12 million cattle in the United States that were born before the 1997 ban. In 2009, that number was estimated to be between five and 10 percent of the U.S. cattle herd.

Key Points:

Precautions in Place to Protect Animals and Consumers from BSE

BSE prevention and assurance of food safety in the U.S. involves a multiple firewall approach, including: 
• Full enforcement of the ruminant feed ban (implemented in 1997) which prevents the spread of the infective agent. 
• Mandatory removal of specified risk materials (SRMs) at processing. These materials, (brain, spinal cord, central nervous system tissue, skull, trigeminal ganglia, dorsal root ganglion, eyes, tonsils, and distal ileum) are not in the meat we eat.
• A ban on the importation of ruminants and ruminant products from countries with a high risk of BSE.

Timeline of BSE Measures

To see what measures were implemented and when by each country visit the respective country pages listed below or download a printable version of our worldwide BSE timeline or our United States and Canada BSE timeline.

Consumers Should Know

NCBA has aggressively communicated to national and consumer media that Americans should continue to eat beef with confidence. All scientific studies show that the BSE infectious agent has never been found in beef muscle meat or milk, and U.S. beef remains safe to eat.

  • The BSE agent is not found in meat like steaks and roasts. It is only found in central nervous system tissue such as brain and spinal cord.
  • All U.S. cattle are inspected by a USDA Inspector or veterinarian before going to slaughter. Animals with any signs of neurological disorder are tested for BSE. All diseased animals are removed from the food system.
  • BSE affects older cattle, typically over 30 months of age. The vast majority of the cattle going to market in the U.S. are less than 24 months old.
  • The U.S. began a surveillance program for BSE in 1990 and was the first country without the disease within its borders to test cattle for the disease. The surveillance system targets all cattle with any signs of neurological disorder as well as those over 30 months of age and animals that are non-ambulatory.
  • The U.S. banned imports of cattle and bovine products from countries with BSE beginning in 1989.
  • The only way BSE spreads is through contaminated feed. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration in 1997 instituted a ban on feeding ruminant-derived meat and bone meal supplements to cattle. This is a firewall that prevents the spread of BSE to other animals if it were present in the U.S.
  • BSE is almost eliminated worldwide. According to the World Organization for Animal Health, there were 21 confirmed cases of BSE worldwide in 2012.

Consumers Remain Confident

Based upon consumer research and reports from major beef retail and foodservice companies, U.S. consumers’ confidence remains strong in U.S. beef as the safest in the world. Despite consumers being aware of the BSE finding, confidence in U.S. beef being safe is at 92 percent, higher than at pre-BSE levels. Consumers also have a high confidence in the government and cattlemen to provide them with beef that is safe from BSE.


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