Ground beef being tested for bird flu in nine states with outbreaks in dairy cows

One human was found infected with bird flu in Texas

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 30 April 2024 17:47 BST
Related video: FDA testing reveals one in five grocery store milk samples contain bird flu virus

The US government is testing ground beef in nine states where dairy cows have been found with bird flu.

Federal officials are to verify the safety of both cow milk and meat after learning that H5N1 has been identified in 34 dairy cattle herds since late March. At least one person in Texas also caught the virus.

The World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control warn that while the overall risk to the public from the bird flu is low, the risk of infection is higher for individuals who regularly work and are exposed to animals.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that pasteurisation kills the bird flu if its particles end up in a cow’s milk.

The USDA is also monitoring the situation by collecting beef samples and running PCR tests to determine whether “any viral particles are present”.

Sarah Little, a spokesperson for the Meat Institute – an industry group representing meat processing companies – said: “USDA’s additional testing is appropriate to ensure public health is protected and to stop the spread of animal disease.”

The effects of the USDA’s enforcement are already being felt; it is requiring lactating dairy cows to test negative for bird flu before they can be moved across state lines.

Cows are seen at a dairy in California
Cows are seen at a dairy in California (AP)

Cows meant for slaughter do not need testing in order to be shipped, they simply have to see a veterinarian before they are killed.

Dairy cows and herds intended for slaughter are typically kept seperated.

According to the USDA, all animals are inspected before they’re slaughtered and that all cattle carcasses must pass its inspections before it can be processed into food.

That’s what happened last week when the USDA found traces of a bird flu in the lung tissue of an asymptomatic dairy cow on its way to slaughter. After finding the virus, the animal was barred from use as food.

In the meantime, the USDA is testing various cook times with a “virus surrogate” to determine if, and at what heat, cooking will kill the bird flu in meat.

In reaction to the bird flu discovery, Colombia has restricted US beef imports from states where cows have been infected.

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