Consumers shouldn't be afraid to purchase Oklahoma beef despite the recent discovery of mad cow disease in the United States, according to a longtime state senator and rancher.
Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, said mad cow disease -- which is scientifically classified as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- is highly unlikely to be found in Oklahoma cattle.
"Most Oklahoma cattle are raised in feedlots and are slaughtered at approximately two years of age or younger," Shurden said.
"According to the scientific evidence that has been gathered on BSE, it takes four-and-a-half to five years for the disease to develop. Most Oklahoma beef cattle that are being slaughtered aren't even old enough to have consumed the kind of feed that is known to carry the disease because it was banned in this country seven years ago."
The Henryetta Democrat's comments follow a letter that was sent to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman by Gov. Brad Henry and the governors of 10 other cattle-producing states. The letter asked the secretary to continue promoting the fact that America's beef is top-quality and safe for consumption in the international marketplace.
Shurden, a lifelong cattle rancher, also clarified concerns about the concentrated feed that is thought to have transmitted the disease to a Holstein cow that was imported from Canada to the state of Washington.
He said that herds in Oklahoma and throughout the nation are comprised of cattle that do not consume feed containing animal byproducts.
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture believes the infected cow was not raised in the United States," Shurden said.
"A lot of the video that has been broadcast on national television was shot in the United Kingdom, where ranchers have been known to use feed that contains animal parts. American cattle have been raised on feed derived from grain products for years, so the risk in this country is extremely low."
Dr. Bill Johnson, who is the associate director of the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Oklahoma State University, confirmed Shurden's remarks and added that his office is monitoring the situation in Oklahoma.
"There has been a great deal of misinformation circulated about mad cow disease, which really doesn't affect the vast majority of cattle raised for slaughter in Oklahoma or in the United States for that matter," Johnson said.
"For several years, we have been testing cattle over two years of age that have shown suspicious neurological symptoms, and we will continue to do so with a series of free workshops that we are planning for ranchers."
Shurden stated that Oklahomans should continue to support their beef industry, which ranks fifth nationally in output and pumps more than $2 billion into the state's economy.
"The U.S. food supply in general is the safest there is, and our beef is an important part of that supply. I want Oklahomans to know that it's perfectly safe to eat a quality cut of Oklahoma beef from your local supermarket or restaurant," Shurden said.
Oklahomans who have questions about mad cow disease may contact the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at (405) 744-6623.