MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Late Sunday night it was confirmed that a rare and spontaneous disease, atypical BSE, was discovered in an Alabama beef cow at a livestock market.
"It was actually Sunday night before we had final confirmation. Then we started making arrangements to make the announcement and get the information up on websites, and contact the public and the Dairy Stockholder groups to be sure everybody had the correct information about what type-issue it was, and what was needed to do to address it and be sure accurate information got out," Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan said.
Despite the information that raises obvious alarm, McMillan said that no more than one cow was affected with the disease.
"Only at a stockyard in Alabama, where we had one cow that turned out to be sick, and actually died at the stockyard immediately," McMillan said.
McMillan said that nothing special happened that caused this lone cow to end up with Atypical BSE, better known as atypical Mad Cow Disease. He also speculated that age may have been a factor.
"It just showed up and this particular animal didn't even make it into the food chain or anything like that. It was actually an older-type cow, about 11 years old," he said.
And if there were any questions about how common this disease was, McMillan has an answer for that too.
"It's all very rare, but the 'atypical' means that it's less of a concern than it would be if it was some other type that might be contagious or something like that," he said.
This disease isn't geographically specific to one region, as McMillan said there was a similar case cited in California. He also said both the government and ADA constantly survey and monitor this situation closely.
"We do surveillance constantly on this. We take samples here, send them to the lab. All over the country, thousands of cattle are tested every year to be sure we have the proper safeguards in place for, as I said, detection and other reasons," said McMillan.
The USDA passed regulations in 2009 that implemented an enhanced surveillance system designed to spot diseases before they can become major problems.
Alterations were even made to the feeding process as the Food and Drug Administration halted feeding practices that were shown to lead to the disease back in 1997.
In this case, the one cow was showing clinical signs of the disease, which brought alarm to the field staff. McMillan said they watch for atypical behavior in the cows, as a part of the surveillance they conduct.
He said that atypical behavior can include not moving around, not being able to get up, and not displaying the normal attention and actions that a healthy cow would.
In the end, McMillan wanted to re-iterate that the stricken cow was not a threat to the public or other cattle.
"This animal never came near the food chain. There's no opportunity for anything. We even don't process parts of the cattle that we used to before this introduction of this BSE issue years ago. So it's perfectly safe, should have no concerns at all with the consumption of food or even the possibility that this has anything to do with our food chain at all," he said.