Mad Cow Disease Update : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

(Note this implies there is no evidence Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk can be passed to humans.) April 4, 2001

Experts: Mad Cow Risk Very Low


Filed at 4:58 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Travelers worried about eating beef in Europe can relax, health experts say.

There is little chance of getting mad cow disease in Europe, given the precautions now in place and the relatively few illnesses reported, a Senate committee was told Wednesday.

``The danger of driving to the airport is greater than eating meat in Europe,'' said Richard Johnson, a special adviser to the National Institutes of Health on mad cow and related diseases.

Europe's scares over mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease prompted Northwest Airlines to waive cancellation fees for passengers who wanted to postpone trips. Ireland's main airline, Aer Lingus, has cut fares to stimulate traffic. United and Northwest no longer serve beef on some flights.

U.S. airline traffic to Europe was about 5 percent higher last month than in March 2000, according to the Air Transport Association.

Foot-and-mouth is harmless to humans. But mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is linked to a human brain-wasting disease, variant Creutzfeld Jakob Disease, that has killed an estimated 97 people in Britain since 1995 and a few more in continental Europe.

That disease is believed to have an incubation period of 10 years to 20 years, so it could have been contracted before Britain put into place controls on animal feed and meat processing.

Cases of mad cow have been reported in France, Portugal, Germany, Spain and Ireland in addition to Britain. A report by the European Union also says most Eastern and Central European countries are at risk because of the ``significant amounts'' of cattle and beef meal they imported from EU countries.

``It's much safer now to eat beef in Britain, although I've eaten beef in Britain throughout this thing,'' Johnson told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Mad cow disease is believed to be caused by a mutated protein that is transmitted through eating pieces of the brain or nervous system of an infected animal. Britain banned cattle brains and spinal cords from food in 1989.

Foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus and spreads far more easily. The epidemic of foot-and-mouth in Britain has led to the destruction or condemnation of more than a million animals.

Ground meat is the beef product most likely to carry mad cow because it is a mix of meat from many parts of the animal, said Alfonso Torres, the Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian. Beef roasts, steaks and other cuts of muscle are the least risky products, he said.

There has never been a confirmed case of mad cow in the United States, although there are similar diseases in sheep and deer that are not transmitted to humans, experts say.

Harvard University is finishing a comprehensive study of U.S. risks; it is due to be delivered to the federal government this spring.

The Agriculture Department halted the import of British cattle in 1989 and in 1997 extended the ban to several other European countries. Also in 1997, the Food and Drug Administration banned the feeding of mammalian proteins, such as meat and bone meal, to cud-chewing animals such as cattle and sheep.

``The likelihood of BSE is very low. It is not zero,'' said William Hueston, a University of Maryland scientist who was the co-chairman of a study of U.S. mad-cow risks by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, a group of scientific societies.

With the import bans in place, U.S. government and industry efforts have focused on preventing the spread of mad cow if it ever shows up in U.S. cattle.

The FDA says it has cracked down on feed mills and rendering plants that failed to comply with regulations intended to prevent animal proteins from being fed to cattle.

McDonald's Corp. and other fast-food companies have forced meatpackers and cattle suppliers to certify that cattle are being fed in accordance with the FDA's rules.

Also Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman updated President Bush on efforts to keep foot-and-mouth out of the United States. ``The United States has been free of foot-and-mouth since 1929, and our goal is to keep it that way,'' Veneman said.


On the Net: Agriculture Department:

Food and Drug Administration:

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, April 05, 2001


April 4, 2001

Consumer Groups Warn of Mad Cow Enforcement Gaps


Filed at 6:32 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Federal agencies are not doing enough to ensure that the fatal livestock sickness known as mad cow disease does not show up in American cattle and other domesticated animals, consumer watchdog groups told lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Groups told members of a Senate subcommittee that the US Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies responsible for the safety of the nation's food supply can't inspect the vast majority of products that enter the United States from Europe. The result, they said, is that vigorous federal bans designed to protect US livestock and US consumers from the deadly brain wasting disease are weak.

``It's fine and well to have a ban, but it doesn't do much good if compliance rates are low and inspection rates aren't what they should be,'' said Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

The disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), ravaged the European beef industry in the 1990s. More than 170,000 cases of BSE have been reported in Western European cattle since 1986, and the disease's human form, new variant Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease, has been blamed for some 100 human deaths there.

Several federal agencies responded to the scare by banning imports of European meat and, in 1997, barring US ranchers from using the animal- based cattle feed believed to be the source of BSE's spread. Experts who testified before the committee credited the bans with preventing any cases of BSE from occurring in the United States.

But Lurie told the committee FDA data shows that 23% of US cattle renderers and 63% of FDA-licensed cattle feed mills have not been inspected to ensure that they are complying with federal safeguards. Also, ``the FDA only inspects about 1% of all (animal) materials that enter this country.''

``There is very little inspection done on all this food that comes back and forth across the border from all over the world,'' said subcommittee ranking member Sen. Byron DorganA recent report from the General Accounting Office suggested that as few as 30% of companies in the cattle industry were in compliance with federal directives on BSE prevention.

Cattle ranchers and meat producers repeatedly stressed that no cases of BSE have ever been seen in the United States and that efforts to keep it out of the US cattle population and out of imported meat are working well.

``These efforts provide the best reasonable assurance that US cattle will remain BSE-free and that US consumers will not be exposed to any related health risks,'' said James H. Hodges, president of the American Meat Institute.

FDA officials maintained that their inspection schedule is rigorous and that companies under their jurisdiction are complaint with federal regulations and import bans. The agency had inspected 834 feed producers, renderers, dairy farms and other cattle businesses and re-inspected 184 initially found to be operating outside of federal BSE rules, said Stephen Sundlof, director of FDA's center for veterinary medicine.

``Only one firm continued to be out of compliance'' as of this week, he said.

Several recent scares about the health of US livestock have caused a new round of alarm over BSE. Federal inspectors in Vermont recently seized and killed two flocks of sheep imported from Belgium because of suspicion that the animals may have been exposed to contaminated feed. All of the sheep were found to be BSE-free.

Lawmakers have introduced several bills designed to strengthen protections against BSE. One bill, sponsored by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), calls for a formal federal task force dedicated to monitoring and preventing the disease in the United States. Another takes the extra step of banning all cow and sheep nerve tissue--the tissue believed to carry the highest risk for transmitting mad cow disease--from all human and animal food.

``While the risks (of BSE) may be low, we cannot be complacent,'' said Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), the chair of the subcommittee.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, April 05, 2001.

Some regulations/procedures are starting to trickle down. When I took cattle into the livestock auction I had to sign a form saying they had not been exposed to any meat and bone meal (MBM). For those born on my farm, I am about 99.9% confident. For those I bought and resold, who knows. I asked if anyone had admitted they might have fed MBM and was told, 'not so far.' Also, guys pick up pocket money hauling for others. They have to sign on the consigner's behalf. This is probably more of a feel good thing, than anything terrible practical.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, April 05, 2001.

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