July 12, 2004
Mad cow disease (BSE)
has been in the news the past few weeks.
What is BSE?
encephalopathies (TSEs) are a family of diseases of humans and
animals characterized by spongy degeneration of the brain with
severe and fatal neurological signs and symptoms. In animals,
scrapie is a common disease in sheep and goats. Mink and North
American mule deer and elk can contract TSEs. Bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) is also a TSE, affecting a number of species
(cattle, human, cats, some types of animals in 300 settings).
BSE is a transmissible, neuro-degenerative fatal brain disease
of cattle. The disease has a long incubation period of 4-5 years
and it is fatal for cattle within weeks to months of its onset.
The nature of the BSE agent is still being debated. Strong evidence
currently available supports the theory that the agent is composed
largely, if not entirely, of a self-replicating protein, referred
to as a prion. It is transmitted through the consumption of BSE-contaminated
meat and bone meal supplements in cattle feed."
Is there BSE in the United
On July 12, 2004, no
positive or inconclusive test results were reported.
As of July 12, 2004, 15,773 tests had been conducted since June
1, 2004. Two tests have come back inconclusive, only to be found
negative after further testing.
Both inconclusive tests
have since come back negative. After the first inconclusive test
made the news, this follow-up information was provided:
on feared mad cow case
Washington (AP) -- No sign of mad cow disease was found in an
animal singled out in preliminary screening last week and then
subjected to a follow-up chemical test, the Agriculture Department
said Wednesday.... 'The USDA remains confident in the safety of
America's food supply,' said John Clifford, deputy administrator
of the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Clifford said no meat from the two animals had entered the food
supply. He said tests by the federal laboratory at Ames, Iowa,
on tissue from the first animal were negative... The preliminary
test last Friday was the first time in 8,587 such screenings to
come back with 'inconclusive' results, raising the possibility
of a mad cow disease infection. The screenings began June 1. The
same preliminary result was announced Tuesday on a second animal.
There has been only one case of mad cow disease -- bovine spongiform
encephalopathy, or BSE -- in the United States. A sick Canadian-born
Holstein was discovered on a farm in Mabton, Washington, in December."
While only once case
of BSE has been reported in the United States (last December).
Fear of the disease in this country has prompted action on the
part of the Food and Drug Administration. Just last week:
"July 10, 2004
The government told cosmetics makers Friday they can no longer
use brain and spinal cord tissue from older cattle in lipstick,
hair sprays and other products. The new Food and Drug Administration
regulations come in the wake of the first U.S. case of mad cow
disease last December. Mad cow -- also known as BSE -- causes
the brains of affected animals to waste away and can kill humans
.... Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public
Interest said it's virtually impossible for a consumer to know
from the label whether a banned product is in cosmetics. The agency
ought to put out lists of products containing bovine-derived material
'so people can throw out old cosmetics and purchase new ones that
are subject to this requirement,' she said."
Not only is it almost
impossible to know what ingredients have gone into the cosmetics
one finds at the make-up counter, it is also difficult to know
what was fed to the animals that find their way to the meat counter.
Federal health officials said yesterday that in an effort to eradicate
mad cow disease, they were moving toward a policy, based on the
advice of international experts, to ban the feeding of any farm
animal parts to other farm animals. Current practice allows cattle
to be fed chickens, pigs and other species that had been fed rendered
cattle whose tissue could theoretically be infected. Such practices
are widely said to have caused the epidemic of mad cow disease
in Britain 20 years ago and its spread to other countries....Consumer
groups expressed outrage that the Food and Drug Administration,
which is responsible for regulating animal feed, did not close
another loophole, feeding cattle large amounts of cattle blood,
chicken waste and other materials that might spread the disease....At
least 30 million American cattle are slaughtered each year. Under
the new plan, all their intestines, which can now be fed to other
animals, would have to be disposed of. The brains, tonsils and
other risky tissues from older animals would also have to find
resting places. Today, the wastes go into chicken and hog feed
and pet food."
New York Times
What have other countries
battling BSE done with such wastes to keep them out of the food
"In Britain, such
wastes are burned with fossil fuels to make Portland cement, Dr.
New York Times
"'We decided to
focus our efforts on the one measure that will have the greatest
effect,' he said. 'We want to have a rule in place that the next
time, if we find another animal, we can say, "Look, we've
done everything we can that is reasonable."' The rules, if
adopted, would require the cattle industry, food manufacturers,
renderers and many other industries to revamp their practices
completely, Dr. Sundlof said."
New York Times
To some, this is more
than just a health concern. Being forced to "revamp their
practices completely" is an expensive step. On the other
hand, the entire industry suffers when one cow is found infected.
Last December, when the one US case was reported, "More than
50 countries then cut off imports of U.S. beef and at least 700
additional cattle in Washington state were killed as a precaution."
Questions of the Week:
If you were a farmer, butcher, or a manufacturer who used tissue
from cattle, what laws and/or changes to the current practices
would you want? Would you want things to stay as they are? What
would be the reasons motivating you to want (or not want) changes
made? What do you think the consumer has the right to know about
your practices? Do you think the general public should be informed
when BSE test results are inconclusive, or do you think this knowledge
should only be made public after the sample has been confirmed
negative or positive?
As a consumer, what laws
and or changes to the current practices do you want, if any? What
are the reasons motivating you to want (or not want) changes made?
What do you think the consumer has a right to know about the practices
of farmers and manufacturers who use tissue from cattle? Do you
think the general public should be informed when BSE test results
are inconclusive, or do you think this knowledge should only be
made public after the sample has been confirmed negative or positive?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum