A scientific commission from the World Organization for Animal Health, OIE, will commence in February to study the case of atypical Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, BSE, reported in the south of Brazil among a herd of animals fed on grassland.
The BSE case in Parana shook the Brazilian cattle farming industry and Mercosur which has become the world’s leading exporter of beef. In this particular case what is most surprising is that cattle in the region are only fed with grass.
BSE or ‘mad cow’ emerged in the eighties in the UK in livestock fed on special rations with animal protein content. Of thousands of cases in the eighties and nineties, the EU has dropped to a handful last year.
“What this isolated case is teaching us is that we must always be alert. What could be happening is that we are facing a transformation at world level in which encephalopathy could even be detected as a disorder of genetic origin”, said Franciso Muzio head of Uruguay’s Livestock Health Services.
Muzio underlined the effectiveness and transparency of the Brazilian sanitary system which immediately reported the case to the Standing Veterinary Committee once they had the confirmation from a UK lab.
“The case is two years old and the cow died with no symptoms of encephalopathy, but emerged in the network of vigilance systems set up for nervous tissues. The sample was sent to be analyzed in a lab but a fire at the lab impeded to work on it. Now we have that the infectious prion has been confirmed in an English lab”, added Muzio.
When the cow died it was buried and in no way did any flesh or bone become part of the food chain, not even meat or bone meal, pointed out the Brazilian authorities.
Muzio said that things have changed drastically in the last two decades. “When an animal dies an autopsy is done to investigate the cause of death”. This includes samples of brain tissue that are sent to government labs to detect the prions. The survey also includes those animals that have died because of rabies.
Meanwhile in Brazil to prevent other countries from following the example of Japan which suspended the purchase of Brazilian beef, the Agriculture Ministry is sending at least 20 technical missions to consumer markets overseas to explain the issue.
According to Brazil’s Secretary of Agricultural Defence, Ênio Marques, the government also intends to hold bilateral meetings in Paris and Geneva in the coming weeks to wear out the issue.
The Parana experience would be the first BSE case ever reported in Brazil. OIE decided, however, to maintain the classification of Brazil as a country at negligible risk for mad cow disease.
Even so, Japan announced the suspension of imports of Brazilian beef last Saturday, a day after the government confirmed the existence of the case. Japanese purchases represent about 0.1% of total Brazilian exports of beef.
The Brazilian government considered the Japanese precaution excessive, since only processed beef is sold to the Asian market.
Since World Trade Organization signatory countries have to follow the decisions from OIE, the Brazilian government does not believe in a chain reaction.