Facts about BSE
- Mad cow disease is also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The disease infects several animal species, and in rare cases, even people. BSE was detected for the first time in the UK in 1986, but has never been detected in Norway.
- The cause of the disease is that cattle, via feed, ingest a special type of proteins called prions. The disease does not break down in the body and accumulates in the central nervous system. It takes a long time, usually between four and seven years of cattle being exposed to the infectious agent, until the disease develops.
- Humans who have eaten meat from cattle with BSE may develop a disease called variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD). This disease has occurred almost exclusively in the UK.
- BSE can be transmitted to humans through meat products. This is why all parts of cattle slaughtered that could contain BSE infection are routinely removed at the slaughterhouse, and sent for destruction. That way we ensure that the infection does not get into our food.
- There are an established number of monitoring and control measures to prevent transmission of infection to humans and other animals. These measures have been effective and the incidence of the disease has plummeted.
- BSE is a so-called B disease and any suspicion of the disease is to be reported to the FSA.
- BSE is not transmitted directly between animals. In recent years an atypical (spontaneous) variant of BSE has been discovered, which occurs spontaneously in older cows and not due to infection through feed. Today more and more of the BSE cases detected in the EU are spontaneous BSE. It is estimated that so-called atypical BSE occurs randomly in about one in a million cattle.
Norway confirmed its first case of atypical BSE (mad cow disease) on the 30th of January 2015. As part of the Norwegian targeted bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) surveillance system, a case of BSE, classified as atypical (H-type) was identified in a culled cow. An epidemiological investigation initiated by The Norwegian Food Safety Authority identified 4 risk animals still alive.
The progeny and the cohort of risk animals were put under movement restrictions and have been culled. Samples of nervous tissue have been tested for BSE, all four of them testing negative. All five carcasses have been destroyed, and will not enter the food chain.
Safeguards concerning BSE in Norway
BSE has been a notifiable disease in Norway since 1991, monitored since 1998, with active surveillance from the year of 2000. Earlier risk assessments, with the aim of identifying all potential factors for BSE occurrence and their historic perspective, have revealed a favorable historic situation for Norway.
It has been considered probable that the Norwegian cattle population has never been infected with the BSE-agent. This has been attributed to a restrictive import policy of live animals, very limited use of meat and bone meal in cattle feed, and a traditional use of high temperature and pressure in the domestic production of such meal.
These findings are supported by a quantitative risk assessment for BSE in Norway, conducted in 2007, and by the compiled results from surveillance and control programs for BSE in the years 2001-2013, with approximately 250 000 negative results.
Meat and milk are not dangerous
So far it is only classic BSE that has been shown, in rare cases, to be transmissible to humans through infected meat products. There is nothing to indicate that this is a problem related to the atypical variant.
However as a precautionary principle, we routinely remove all parts of cattle slaughter that could contain BSE, such as brain, spinal cord and the intestines. These are removed at the slaughterhouse and sent to be destroyed. None of these parts are used in food production.
Norway has the best status
Norway is considered by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the EU to have a negligible risk of BSE. A negligible risk means that the risk is so minuscule that it can be virtually disregarded. What is or is not a negligible risk is defined by an OIE standard. This standard is accepted and binding on all 180 member countries. Even though Norway now has one case of BSE, this will not effect any changes in Norway's status.
Inquiries from importing countries: The Norwegian CVO, Kristina Landsverk