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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the finding posed "no risk to the food supply or to human health", and experts said they were relieved by the fact that the case was "atypical" -- meaning it was a rare occurrence in which a cow contracts the disease spontaneously, rather than through the feed supply.
However, fears of a potential backlash among consumers and big importers of U.S. beef fueled a sell-off in Chicago live cattle futures with memories still sharp of the first case in 2003 that caused a $3 billion drop in exports. It took until 2011 before those exports fully recovered.
There is no evidence that humans can catch mad cow -- or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)-- from drinking the milk of an infected cow. The risk of transmission generally comes when the brain or spinal tissue is consumed by humans or another animal, which did not occur in this case.
First discovered in Great Britain in 1986, the disease has killed more than 150 people and 184,000 cows globally, mainly in Britain and Europe, but strict controls have tempered its spread. The first U.S. case was found in late 2003 in an animal imported from Canada, followed by two more in 2005 and 2006. Two of those cases were also "atypical".
The USDA is still tracing the exact life of the infected animal, and the carcass of the cow is under quarantine and would be destroyed. It was not believed to have contracted the disease by eating contaminated feed, which had ground up animal (including cows) carcases. This practice has been banned.
Beef exports plunged nearly 75 percent in 2004 in the wake of the first U.S. incident in late-2003, with USDA reporting net cancellations of beef sales in five out of the first six weeks following the news
Experts insisted that as the dairy cow had not been eaten by other animals, there was no risk of the disease being spread, and estimated the chance of an animal spontaneously contracting the disease at about one in a million.
So what's in that supposedly "safer" feed that no longer includes ground up critters?
Chicken poop - that's correct - chicken crap.
Increasingly, American cattle farmers feed their herds chicken manure, which health officials warn could contain dangerous bacteria that ends up in ground meat eaten by humans.The waste that is mixed with livestock feed is a less expensive alternative to using grains and hay.
The practice is increasingly being used by cattle farmers in regions where there are large poultry operations and thus a ready supply of cheap manure such as California, the South and the midAtlantic states.
A U.S. News article cites as an example Dardanelle, Arkansas, farmer Lamar Carter, who recently bought 745 tons of manure from local chicken houses to feed his 800 head of cattle.
"My cows are as fat as butterballs, Carter said. If I didn't have chicken litter, Id have to sell half my herd. Other feeds too expensive."
While it may sound disgusting, some say it can be safe if the manure is heated to 160 degrees to kill the bacteria. But, the study says many farmers don't take that precaution.
There are no accurate statistics on how common the practice of feeding chicken manure to cattle is, but with a recent ban on the use of slaughterhouse byproducts imposed because of the mad cow disease scare there is a shortage of cattle feed filler.
Until the ban, about 75 percent of the 90 million cattle in the United States were fed slaughterhouse wastes that included blood, bones and viscera.
Millions of euthanized cats and dogs, collected from veterinarians and animal shelters, have long been rendered into livestock feed each year.
Poultry feed often contains bits of rendered beef byproducts. Chickens are not tidy eaters: they spill copious amounts of food into their litter, which is then fed to cattle. And, as everyone knows, cows that eat cows can go "mad" with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or spongy cow-brain disease).
In 2004, the FDA proposed banning poultry litter in cattle feed, to avoid the spread of BSE. It was already outlawed in Canada. But days later, the agency postponed its change, citing "troubling feedback" from the agricultural sector. Some foreign countries balked at buying US beef, but the Bush Administration held firm, refusing to commit to a deadline, and the Obama Administration is still sitting on the fence.
So, as long as no one objects, and a major outbreak of disease hasn't occurred, feeding chicken poop to cattle is just A-Okay.