BSE Update

From Patricia Doyle, PhD
In these updates:
[1] International BSE cases update, 29 Sep 2004
[2] Portugal: lifting export restrictions
[3] Atypical cases in bovines
[4] Japan: testing policy reassessed.
[1] International BSE cases update, 29 Sep 2004
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 2004
From: ProMED-mail<>
Source: EU and OIE data (see comment)
BSE confirmed cases update, 29 Sep 2004
for chart see
* Including an animal born in Germany
** Including a case in a zoo zebu
*** An imported case (from Canada)
[These data have been derived from 2 sources:
1. Table 11 (Situation countries/diseases) of EU's weekly report "Animal Disease Notification System" for the period 1 Jan - 24 Sep 2004 <>
2. OIE's BSE tables, updated 29 Sep 2004 <>
Compared to 184 005 BSE cases recorded in the UK so far, 5003 cases have been recorded in the 23 other -- mostly European -- countries. The updated numbers so far, and the OIE data on 2003 annual incidence rates (number of indigenous cases per million bovines aged over 24 months) from the 5 (ex-UK) countries with highest numbers of confirmed cases, are the following:
Ireland (1447; 57.81), France (934; 12.01), Portugal (923; 137.19), Spain (455; 46.31) and Switzerland (455; 24.86). During 2004, an increase in the number of recorded BSE cases is being observed in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and probably in Slovenia and Japan. In other countries the previously observed decrease has been continuing during the current year; Germany might be an exception. The decrease in Portugal deserves special attention; see item 2. - Mod.AS]
[2] Portugal: lifting export restrictions
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 2004
From: ProMED-mail<>
Source: EU Press release IP/04/1118 of 21 Sep 2004 [edited]
BSE: all restrictions on Portuguese exports lifted
The EU Member States today accepted a proposal from Commissioner Byrne to lift the embargo on Portugal and remove all restrictions on the export of cows, beef and related animal products. The embargo was adopted in November 1998 because of the high rate of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in Portugal at that time combined with inadequate management of the disease. Since then, Portugal has taken firm risk management action and the incidence of BSE has consistently decreased.
David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said "Portugal has made very significant efforts to deal with its BSE situation and will now reap the rewards of resumed trade. As I approach the end of my term in office, I am very pleased to see that consumer confidence in beef has finally returned as a result of the effective efforts made by all EU countries in the management of BSE."
In 2001, harmonised EU-level legislation for the management of BSE was put in place in all Member States. The regulation targets all animal and public health risks resulting from TSEs (of which BSE is the best known) and governs the whole chain of production. An inspection by the FVO [EU's Food and Veterinary Office] in February 2004 showed that Portugal has fully implemented the rules and taken all the actions required by the legislation. Currently, the BSE incidence rate in Portugal, calculated over the previous 12 months, is well below the upper limit for countries with a moderate BSE risk as defined in the International Animal Health Code. Furthermore, the test results indicate that the BSE incidence rate is on a downward trend. It is therefore appropriate to repeal the embargo and remove all restrictions on trade for Portugal. Of course the same rules on BSE management and controls continue to apply to Portugal as with all other Member States.
The decision to lift the embargo was agreed today [21 Sep 2004] by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, consisting of representatives of the EU Member State and chaired by the European Commission. During the coming weeks, the legal texts will be formally adopted by the European Commission and published in the Official Journal, after which they will immediately enter into force.
Background to the Portuguese embargo:
In 1998 an embargo was placed on all exports of live bovine animals and derived products from Portugal to the rest of the EU. Following this embargo, Portugal immediately took action to control the risk of human exposure and the risk of further spreading BSE through animal feed.
The main actions taken were a ban on specified risk materials (like spinal cord, brain, etc) in both human food and animal feed and the so-called "feed ban" preventing the use of mammalian protein and fats being used as animal feed. Both these actions were introduced on 4 Dec 1998. In addition, a centralised national system for the identification and registration of bovine animals was introduced in Portugal on 1 Jul 1999.
[Portugal is currently the most seriously BSE-affected country, though a significant decrease of the number of confirmed cases has been observed during 2004. Its 2003 annual incidence rate (see in previous item -- 2) was 137.19, compared to 122.44 in the UK. - Mod.AS]
[3] Atypical BSE cases in bovines
Date: 31 Aug 2004
From: Jan Braakman <>
Atypical cases of BSE
[In addition to previous cases in Japan (20031007.2511), Italy (20031022.2649) and France (20040107.0076)], confirmations of "new" atypical BSE cases have recently been received from Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland.
The Belgian case is described in The International Journal of Applied Research and has similarities to the Japanese cases.
The Danish case is published by the Danish Food and Veterinary institute and has similarities to the Italian cases.
in Danish, dated 19 Aug 2004.
The Dutch case was confirmed by the Centraal Instituut voor Dierziekte Controle in Lelystad and seems to be similar to the French cases described by Thiery Baron et al.(Biacabe AG, Laplanche JL, Ryder S, Baron T: A molecular variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. International Conference on Prion Disease: From basic research to intervention concepts. Gasreig, Munchen, 8-10 Oct 2003.)[see further].
The Polish case (with similarities to Italian cases, described in PNAS, by Casalone et al.)[see further] was confirmed to me by the National Veterinary Research Institute in Pulawy.
-- Jan Braakman <>
[Jan Braakman is gratefully acknowledged for this update. The Italian and French papers, mentioned by him, are:
1. Casalone, Zanusso, Acutis, Ferrari, Capucci, Tagliavini, Monaco & Caramelli (2004): Identification of a second bovine amyloidotic spongiform encephalopathy: Molecular similarities with sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2 Mar 2004, 101 (9): 3065-3070.
2. Biacabe, Laplanche, Ryder & Baron (2004) : Distinct molecular phenotypes in bovine prion diseases; EMBO reports 5, 1, 110-115.
The detection of atypical BSE cases in 7 countries, while reportedly having varying molecular signature, deserves further research into their epidemiological and zoonotic significance, as well as their possible relevance to different scrapie strains. -Mod.AS]
[4] Japan: testing policy reassessed.
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 2004
From: ProMED-mail<>
Source: The Asahi Shimbun, 9 Sep 2004 [edited]
BSE inspection policy
An expert panel of the Food Safety Commission reviewing Japan's mad cow controls has given a virtual green light to a proposal to exclude young cattle aged 20 months or less from mandatory testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The panel's recommendation will probably pave the way for an easing of tough anti-BSE standards now in place that require tests on all cattle for the brain-wasting disease. This testing regime was introduced soon after Japan's 1st mad cow case was revealed in 2001.
BSE is caused by the accumulation of misshapen proteins called prions in body tissue, especially the brain. Since prion accumulation occurs gradually, it is difficult to detect BSE infection in young cattle using current testing techniques. This is why the European Union tests only cattle over 30 months old.
In Japan, 11 of the roughly 3.5 million animals tested to date were infected with the disease. 2 were aged 21 months and 23 months [Since this publication date, the total number of cases has become 13. - Mod.AS]. But the amount of abnormal prions in their bodies was very small, somewhere between 1/500th and 1/1000th of the quantity typically found in infected adult animals. The fact that these amounts are close to the minimum that can be detected through testing apparently led the panel to reason that the risk of human infection would not rise if cattle below 20 months old were excluded from testing.
The government originally planned to adopt the EU's testing standards. But it eventually decided to screen all cattle out of concern that distributing beef from both tested and untested animals could cause market and consumer confusion and anxiety.
In the 3 years since rigorous testing was introduced, there has been no rise in the number of new BSE cases. Meanwhile, more anti-BSE measures have been implemented. The time is probably ripe for a review of the test-all policy, and the case for that is also supported by the experience in EU, which does not test young cattle.
Obviously, a comprehensive approach is essential for securing beef safety. First of all, brain, spinal cord and other body parts in danger of containing large amounts of prions must be eliminated from the beef made available to consumers. But in separating such parts, infected tissue could come into contact with uninfected meat.
That is why all beef must be tested for BSE infection before being put into the food chain. It is vital that all these steps be taken assiduously to prevent any error.
The proposed testing review echoes growing calls within the government to lift the ban on U.S. beef imports. Some policy makers clearly hope the panel's recommendation will help break the impasse in bilateral talks over the import ban. There are, however, several problems that must be sorted out before resuming beef imports from the United States.
It is possible to trace the place of origin and the age of every animal raised in Japan. But that is not easy in the United States, where cattle are typically managed in herds. So accurately identifying beef cattle younger than 20 months to exclude them from testing would be a big challenge in the United States.
Another problem concerns the elimination of risky body parts. While all cattle are subject to this requirement in Japan, only those aged 30 months or older are handled this way in the United States. Although the United States stresses it has dramatically increased the number of cows tested, the fact is that U.S. testing failed to detect animals showing possible BSE symptoms this spring.
A review of Japan's test-all approach would not sharply narrow the wide gap that exists between the 2 countries. The step would not allay Japanese consumer fears about the safety of American beef. Japan should urge the United States to adopt beef safety standards similar to those in this country. That should be our bottom-line demand in talks over resuming imports of U.S. beef.
-- ProMED-mail <>
[Japan's comprehensive testing policy, covering all bovines sent for slaughter -- irrespective of age (in EU terminology, "Healthy slaughtered cattle") -- is impressive, if not extreme. Initially, the testing policy did not seem to adequately cover the most vulnerable group, namely "Risk animals" (fallen stock, bovine animals with clinical signs at ante-mortem and emergency slaughter). As experienced in Europe, the detection-rate of BSE in such animals is more than 3000-fold higher compared to that observed in healthy slaughtered cattle. It will be interesting to see figures pertaining to the number of such animals tested annually in Japan. A new Japanese law which went into effect 1 Apr 2003 states that all the cattle over 24 months found dead on farms should be checked for BSE (see 20030426.1019). However, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry (MAFF), responsible for this segment, said that they could not check all the dead animals in 17 prefectures, and that total test numbers would be only about half of the expected 80 000. - Mod.AS]
Correction for the above BSE update:
Date: 2 Oct 2004 From: ProMED-mail <>
In ProMED-mail posting BSE update 2004 (11) 20041001.2704, the moderator comment associated with the newswire in section [4] Japan: testing policy reassessed erroneously mentioned "As experience in Europe, the detection-rate of BSE in such animals is more than 3000-fold higher compared to that observed in healthy slaughtered cattle."
The corrected version should read: As experienced in Europe, the detection-rate of BSE in such animals is more than 30-fold higher compared to that observed in healthy slaughtered cattle."
We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this error.
Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
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