Importance of reporting animal health issues

Protecting our beef market

Tablelands Telegraph - October 2021

A single case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (commonly known as BSE or Mad Cow Disease) was diagnosed in the UK a couple of weeks ago.

For those too young to remember, there was a large outbreak of BSE in the UK in the 1980’s and 1990’s. BSE is caused by feeding cattle meat and bone meal contaminated with the BSE prion, and the incubation period is several years. Over four million cattle were destroyed in order to contain the outbreak.

Although there has never been a case of BSE in Australia, we still need to demonstrate to our beef export markets that BSE is not present in the national herd. This involves testing cattle with signs consistent with BSE for the disease. NSW District Veterinarians regularly submit post mortem samples of cattle with neurological signs to the state veterinary laboratory for BSE exclusion.

BSE is a zoonotic disease, which means it can spread from animals to humans. In humans, the disease variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD) is linked to the consumption of the meat of BSE affected cattle.

This week a landholder called a Central Tablelands District Vet about a cow with strange neurological signs. The animal was too young to be eligible for the national testing scheme (as mentioned above, the incubation period is several years), but a post mortem was undertaken to determine to cause of the sudden weakness and incoordination of the back legs after several months of unusual aggressive behaviour.

The animal was found to have a visible haematoma (accumulation of blood) in the spinal canal, which was compressing the spinal cord, explaining the sudden weakness in the back legs. Further laboratory testing is underway to determine the cause of the unusual behaviour.

Australia and NSW have strict laws designed to prevent cattle contracting BSE. The NSW Biosecurity Act 2015 prohibits the feeding of any animal material to ruminants (with some exceptions, for example, milk). Manufactured feed products, like pellets, must state on the label or invoice that the feed does not contain restricted animal material. It is important to request this information when purchasing stock feeds, particularly those supplied in bulk.

It is in everyone’s interests to prevent BSE!

Further information on BSE can be found here. Information about BSE surveillance testing can be found here, and information on what can and can’t be fed to ruminants can be found here.

To contact a Central Tablelands District Veterinarian, call 1300 795 299.

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