Cornell cooperating in federal 'BSE surveillance' program

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell is cooperating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a surveillance program for British cattle that were imported to the United States before bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) in England prompted a 1989 embargo on cattle from the United Kingdom. Federal and state authorities are using a pathological incinerator at the veterinary college to cremate several cattle that were given up by American owners.

The so-called BSE surveillance cattle are not believed to have the fatal brain disease and show no symptoms, but authorities won't know for sure until post-mortem tests are completed. Officials of USDA and state agriculture agencies ordered the animals destroyed. The pathological incinerator at Cornell is one of the few in the Northeast with the capacity for cremating large animals. Three BSE surveillance cattle are scheduled for cremation this week (April 10-12). Two animals are among the 13 ordered destroyed in New York state; the third is from New Hampshire.

Cornell veterinary pathologists will assist veterinarians from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the USDA before the cremations to remove samples from the animals' central nervous system, including the brain. Samples will be sent to a federal laboratory in Ames, Iowa. There is no diagnostic test for BSE while animals are alive.

The cattle are breeding stock that were imported to this country after BSE was detected in England in 1986 and before the United States banned importation of cattle from the United Kingdom in 1989 to assure the health of U.S. herds, according to Larry Thompson, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of biosafety at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The animals were kept under surveillance by the USDA, and the owners knew they might have to give up the cattle at any time. English farmers are preparing to destroy millions of cattle because of the apparent link between BSE and brain disease in humans. U.S. owners are being compensated for the loss of their cattle.

The Cornell incinerator, which is licensed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to burn pathological waste, is used for animals with infectious diseases such as rabies as well as cremation of non-infected animals. Temperatures in the gas-fired incinerator reach 2,000 degrees F. during the three- to four-hour process to destroy infectious organisms and reduce carcasses to sterile ash.

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