Mad cow disease

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Definition of Mad Cow Disease

According to the Wikipedia, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease -- is a "fatal neurodegenerative disease of cattle. BSE is believed to be caused by prions and to be bovine counterpart of human prion disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and sheep prion disease scrapie. Eating meat from cattle with BSE is thought to have caused the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD) in about 90 cases in the U.K. and many more in France. Rodents injected with brain tissue obtained from cows with BSE develop a fatal neurological disorder in one or two years. It is possible to detect the abnormal prion protein in some but not all of these animals' brain tissues. Although there is substantial evidence for transmission of the disease by prions, and various theories have developed about the absorption of prion proteins by intestinal cells, there is still no definite proof reliably showing that eating infected beef is really the cause of the new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. There is also some concern about those who work with (and therefore inhale) cattle bone meal, such as horticulturists who use it as fertilizer. The first BSE epidemic was recognized in the United Kingdom in 1986.

"BSE is thought to have arisen from cattle fed with a high-protein diet, obtained from remnants of butchered animals and modified by some new methods   developed in the early 1980s. This practice allows the accumulation of prions over many generations, and is now disallowed by modern cattle farming practices. To date (2001*) there has not been a case of BSE in the United States, nor a case of new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease except among those who have travelled to Europe."

Mad cow in Europe

The Leeds-based scientist Richard Lacey first proposed that Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, entering into the food chain, caused Creutzfeld Jacob Disease (CJD). Lacey was reported as saying that virtually a whole generation of people might die (Nature (1990) 345:648). On the basis of Lacey’s findings OneWorld reported: ‘Recently, it was estimated that 34 million people could be infected by 1997.’ [1]In the event, annual deaths from CJD were negligible, lower than those caused turning off a radio alarm clock (20) or falling out of bed (20).

"First identified in Britain in 1985, "mad cow disease" developed over the years into a frightening crisis. Several million animals were slaughtered to check the spread of the disorder, and some 122 Britons lost their lives.
"The credibility of government regulators was severely damaged when a British agriculture minister claimed in 1990 that the nation's beef was completely safe and appeared on TV urging his 4-year-old daughter to eat a hamburger. A British health secretary several years later officially announced a probable link between cattle and the human form of the illness known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
"The European Commission imposed a worldwide ban on all British beef exports, but the disease spread to the continent, and much uncertainty remains. Research published this year by the Royal Society, Britain's academy of scientists, forecasts that as few as 10 additional people, or as many as 7,000, could eventually contract it."[2]

Feeding waste products to farm animals

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally banned the practice of feeding cow meat and bone meal back to cows in 1997 (after the Mad cow disease epidemic in Great Britain). However, dried poultry waste and sewage sludge are routinely fed to cattle. Pigs and chickens are still routinely fed the bones, brains, meat scraps, feathers, and feces of their own species. Furthermore, tens of millions of shelter animals are also picked up by rendering plants. Thus commercial meat, dairy, and egg products often come from animals whose diet included the ground up remains of cats and dogs, including the euthanasia drugs injected into their bodies. [1] 40 billion pounds a year of slaughterhouse wastes (blood, bone, viscera) and euthanized cats and dogs from veterinarians and animal shelters, are rendered annually into livestock feed. [2] Moreover, the FDA has been using inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable data to track and oversee feed ban compliance.[3], [4] See also Meat & Dairy industry, section 4.

High risk meat products

In December of 2003 on NBC's Today, the former Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Ann M. Veneman insisted that:

"all scientific evidence would show, based upon what we know about this disease, that muscle cuts -- that is, the meat of the animal itself -- should not cause any risk to human health." [5]

However, according to a 2002 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), products such as beef stock, beef extract and beef flavoring are frequently made from boiled skeletal remains (including the vertebral column) of the carcass. [6] Spinal cord contamination may also be found in hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza toppings and taco fillings. [7] According to a 2002 USDA survey of high risk meat products, approximately 35% contained central nervous system tissues. [8],[9]

WHO recommendations & waste products fed to farm animals

In a December of 2000 the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NBA) described government and industry efforts to safeguard the American public from mad cow disease as "swift", "decisive" and "aggressive". [10] In 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) added "diligent, vigilant and strong". [11] However, the world's authority on these diseases disagrees. Dr. Stanley Prusiner is the scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions, the infectious agents thought to cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. The word Dr. Prusiner uses to describe the efforts of the U.S. government and the cattle industry is "terrible". [12] In 1996, in response to the revelation that young people in Britain were dying from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD); the human equivalent of Mad cow disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued seven recommendations. [13] Numbers 5-7 were recommendations for further research; however 1-4 were concrete recommendations. The United States continues to violate all four guide lines; number one being to stop feeding animals to other animals.[14]

Memorable Quotes

"There is no evidence that mad cow disease has entered the Canadian food supply and therefore we can reassure the Canadian public the person did not acquire the disease in Canada." -- Dr. Antonio Giulivi of Health Canada at August 9, 2002, news conference on death of a man at Saskatoon hospital. [15]
"I want to stress the cow did not go into the food chain. I want to stress from the beginning this is one cow." -- Lyle VanClief, agriculture minister in Canada, where mad cow disease was diagnosed in a cow from an Alberta ranch. Reported in the New York Times, May 21, 2003.

Articles & sources

SourceWatch resources

Science and medicine

Government policies

Pro-industry groups

PR Campaigns, PR Firms and Lobbyists


  1. Lynn Truong The Cost of Meat—The Public Health Argument, Wisebread, May 2007
  2. Michael Satchell, Stephen J. Hedges and Linda Kulman The Next Bad Beef Scandal?, U.S. News & World Report, August 1997
  3. Mad Cow Disease: Improvements in the Animal Feed Ban and Other Regulatory Areas Would Strengthen U.S. Prevention Efforts., U.S. General Accounting Office, GAO Congressional Report, January 2002
  4. Michael Greger, M.D. USDA Misleading American Public about Beef Safety, Organic Consumers Association, December 2003
  5. US Confident Food Supply Safe Following Mad Cow Announcement, Voice of America, December 2003
  6. Mad Cow Disease: Improvements in the Animal Feed Ban and Other Regulatory Areas Would Strengthen U.S. Prevention Efforts, GAO-02-183, GAO Report to Congress, January 2002
  7. Health and Consumer Groups Urge USDA to Keep Cattle Spinal Cord Tissue Out of Processed Meat, Center for Science in the Public Interest, August 2001
  8. USDA Begins Sampling Program for Advanced Meat Recovery Systems, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, News Release, March 2002
  9. Michael Greger, M.D. USDA Misleading American Public about Beef Safety, Organic Consumers Association, December 2003
  10. Mad Cow Disease Not a Problem in the U.S., National Cattlemen's Beef Association, News release, December 6, 2000
  11. USDA Release No. 0012.03 15 January 2003, USDA Release No. 0166.03 20 May 2003
  12. Angie Coiro Mad Cow Disease in Canada, KQED, May 23, 2003
  13. Consultation on Public Health Issues Related to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and the Emergence of a New Variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, World Health Organization, MMWR 45 (14); 295-6, 303, April 1996
  14. Michael Greger, M.D. Organic Consumers Association U.S. Violates World Health Organization Guidelines for Mad Cow Disease: A Comparison of North American and European Safeguards, Organic Consumers Association, June 2003.
  15. Kanina Holmes First Canadian dies of human mad cow strain, Reuters, August 2002

External resources

External articles

Britain' - New fears are raised over CJD; Possibility exists that disease may lie dormant for decades; New measures to be taken over blood donations], The Scotsman, May 19, 2006.