Federal officials said Thursday that they now know the latest cow found in the U.S. with mad-cow disease was 10 years and seven months old and came from a dairy farm in Tulare County, Calif., giving investigators new pieces of the puzzle as they try to trace back the animal's origins.
The cow had been sent from the dairy to a rendering operation where it was tested for the disease as part of the Department of Agriculture's routine monitoring.
Investigators need to know how old the cow was when it died as well as where it was born to find out if it sired any offspring as well as locate herd mates from early on in its life, USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford said Wednesday.
If the investigators find any offspring or early herd mates, it will purchase them and take them off the market, Clifford said.
It's believed a cow with mad-cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, may be able to pass the fatal brain-wasting disease to offspring, Clifford said.
"It's important to reiterate that [the California dairy cow] was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, did not enter the food supply channels and at no time presented any risk to human health," the USDA said in the Thursday announcement.
It is the fourth cow ever found with BSE in the U.S. and the first since 2006. The disease can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of tainted meat.
USDA officials have said the California dairy cow contracted a rare "atypical" strain of the disease, meaning it likely didn't acquire it through eating contaminated feed.
The primary way cattle around the world contract mad-cow disease is by eating contaminated left-over bovine material that's been added to feed to increase protein levels, but in rarer instances the disease is simply "sporadic," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
BSE is a disease only seen in older cattle, according to Larry Hollis, a Kansas State University professor and veterinarian.
Most cattle in the U.S. are raised and slaughtered primarily to produce beef and they are killed young, usually before the animals are two years old, he said, but dairy cattle are slaughtered after years of providing milk and are the primary concern when it comes to BSE.
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