Beef recalled due to specific risk materials

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The USDA this week recalled 4,000 pounds of beef processed at Fruitland American Meat in Jackson, Missouri, due to possible inclusion of “specific risk materials,” which are tissues associated with BSE in cattle and possible transmission of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) to humans.

Most of the recalled meat was distributed to a Whole Foods distribution center in Connecticut that supplies its New England stores.

The USDA requires brain and spinal tissue be removed from meat products from cattle 30 months and older as a safeguard against vCJD.

The risk presented by the beef covered by this recall is exceedingly low, as there is no indication any cattle involved had BSE. Unfortunately though, news headlines linking the recall to BSE could mislead the public., for example, ran this headline: “4,000 pounds of rib-eyes, other beef recalled; mad cow disease a concern.” The article does go on to say that all the cattle involved were inspected by veterinarians and there was no indication of disease and no reports of illness as a result of consumption.

Variant CJD remains extremely rare worldwide. Since the disease was first identified in 1996, 229 cases have been reported. The largest concentration of cases occurred in the UK, with 177, and in France with 27. In the early 1990s, BSE became an epidemic in the UK, and reported cases reached a peak of nearly 1,000 per week in 1993. Scientists believe the emergence of BSE resulted from feeding cattle processed byproducts such as bone meal from sheep infected with scrapie , which is a related disease.

Once that link was established, European producers stopped feeding ruminant byproducts to cattle, and other nations soon adopted similar policies. In the United States, the FDA instituted a ruminant feed ban in June 1997 that became fully effective as of October 1997. In October 26, 2009, FDA implemented enhanced BSE-related feed ban with tighter controls. In late 2001, the Harvard Center for Risk Assessment study of various scenarios involving BSE in the U.S. concluded that the FDA ruminant feed rule provides a major defense against this disease.

Studies have shown that when producers stopped feeding ruminant byproducts to cattle, the incidence of BSE dropped off dramatically. And after the number of BSE-infected cattle entering the food chain shrank to near zero, the number of new human cases of vCJD dropped accordingly. During the early stages of the BSE outbreak in the UK in the early 1990s, it is likely that thousands, possibly tens of thousands of BSE-infected cattle entered the food chain before the disease and its link to vCJD became understood and the industry took action. That suggests there probably were millions of servings of beef from BSE cattle served to consumers, and yet there have only been 177 cases of vCJD in the UK and 229 worldwide. What all that tells us is that while there is a link between BSE and vCJD, the risk of contracting vCJD, even among those eating beef from BSE cattle, is extremely low.

Read more from the CDC. 

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Kansas  |  June, 13, 2014 at 01:30 PM

I assume you mean the restriction is on cattle that are 30 MONTHS and older instead of "30 years and older".

June, 13, 2014 at 03:01 PM

The folks who now own the USDA processing plant at Fruitland are good folks who raise a lot of the cattle they slaughter for beef themselves on ranches nearby. They are, as we understand it, locally grass fed cattle, raised without hormones, antibiotics and steroids--all-natural slow beef, in other words. The BSE problem in Great Britain came from adding cattle by-products to the rations of beef cattle, essentially turning ruminants that have evolved to digest only plants into cannibals that were being fed the blood of their own species. If the cattle Fruitland sold that were over 30 months old (NOT years, of course) were 100% grass fed, that actually puts the risk of BSE at ZERO. The thirty-month cutoff age here in the U. S., in retrospect, seems to have had something to do with the fact that raising cattle to finish on grass can take a lot longer than in the feedlot, depending on rainfall and availability of good forage. Beef industry folks who have aligned with feedlot production lose far too much money if their cattle stay in the feedlot past two and a half years. Thirty months therefore seemed to be a safe cut-off age to disqualify more grassfed cattle, eliminating a good chunk of the competition. However, as graziers gain more experience, it has become very feasible to finish and sell a grass-bred steer before it reaches the 30 month cutoff. The 30 month age limit does eliminate a lot of young healthy cull cows from the premium market. Although a prime 4 or 5 year old grassfed cow can produce very high quality gourmet beef, she can't sell on the beef market for the higher prices that young steer beef bring in today's market. (Right now, few cows that age are being culled in our neck of the woods anyway.)

Mo  |  June, 13, 2014 at 06:52 PM

Actually BSE has never been detected in cattle less than 24 months of age and that is when most cattle are slaughtered. BSE jumping the species barrier and causing vCJD in humans is a very rare event. It is not a public health threat by any stretch of the imagination in U.S. Raised beef. The specified risk material, ie brain, spinal cord, lymphoid matter and the like were routinely consumed in the UK by people, often intermittently, for a decade or more and they had 177 cases out of a population of 60 million people.


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