AR-News: (US) Agencies steer away from mad cow disease
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Sun Oct 12 15:48:55 EDT 2003
Farm Report: Agencies steer away from mad cow disease
By EMILY GERSEMA Associated Press
Quarantined cattle graze in a field near Tulliby Lake, Alta, Canada, in this
May file photo.
ED KAISER / Associated Press
Below: This cow was one of seven herds of cattle under quarantine in Canada
in May. In the United States, the Agriculture Department wants to test for mad
cow disease in cattle that get sick or die on a farm.
ADRIAN WYLD / Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- While no case of mad cow infection has ever been found in the
United States, the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration are
looking at new ways to combat the disease.
One proposal being discussed is to test all cows that get sick and die on the
farm, even if mad cow is not suspected. Discovery of a sick cow in Canada has
led the United States to re-examine ways to protect U.S. herds.
Veterinarians and food safety regulators test for mad cow because it is
linked to a similar incurable illness that affects humans, variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. An estimated 100 people died of the illness in Europe after an
outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s.
The Agriculture Department wants to test for mad cow disease in cattle that
get sick or die on the farm. The idea is to head off any problem early, prevent
the brain-wasting illness from in fecting animals and, ultimately, to
The agency also is proposing that farmers end the practice of sending the
carcasses to rendering plants to process them for pet food and animal feed, in an
effort to lower the risk for the disease.
The FDA is considering a proposal to expand a ban on using cattle brain and
spinal tissue, which is easily infected with mad cow disease. The ban would
cover all animal feed -- not just for cattle, sheep and goats -- and include pet
Cattle industry officials say that effectively could end the use of cows in
food for pets and livestock. Renderers are reluctant to spend a lot of money
removing brain and spinal cords from dead animals. Farmers usually have to pay
them a fee to haul away sick and dead cattle and turn them into animal feed.
Farmers would have little choice but to bury their animals on their farms or
illegally dump them elsewhere. Incineration is ineffective in killing mad cow
disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Rendering, which
basically cooks the meat, can kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli but does not
kill mad cow.
Mad cow disease is believed to be caused by a deformed protein that attacks
the brain, turning it into a sponge. The disease, part of a family of illnesses
known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, is spread through eating
brain or nerve tissue of infected animals. It is incurable.
Gary Weber, executive director of regulatory affairs for the National
Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the federal proposals would do little to reduce
the risk of mad cow disease spread ing into the food supply.
Compliance with the existing animal use restrictions for feed already is very
high "so the risk of (made cow) developing from (potentially sick) animals
entering the feed supply and then the food supply is very, very low," he said.
Dr. Lisa Ferguson, head of the Agriculture Department's team of mad cow
disease experts, said a Harvard study two years ago concluded that sick cattle --
"downer" animals -- are likely carriers of the disease.
Dr. William Hueston, a veterinarian at the University of Minnesota and expert
on mad cow disease, said the government is in a Catch-22.
"If we're successful in preventing a disease from occurring, we will be
criticized for wasting taxpayer dollars on something that never occurred," he said.
"On the other hand, if a disease occurred, we would be criticized for not
acting quickly enough."
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: <A HREF="http://www.aphis.usda.gov/">http://www.aphis.usda.gov</A>
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