It’s a Mad Mad World…



The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken measures to prevent the introduction and potential spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease, into the cattle population of the US. As a prion disease, it is spread between certain species by feed that includes exposure to neural tissue, and when consumed by humans forms a terminal disease called Variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease, or vCJD.The fear of an outbreak – such as experienced in 1990s UK – lead to the authorization of policies to control for meat processing, feed and import restrictions, etc. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has conducted surveillance for the disease since 1990 by targeting cattle populations where the disease is most likely to be found. The level of surveillance increased steadily from 1990 and jumped significantly in 2004 to nearly 1% of the cattle population following the detection of BSE from an imported cow. These policies have prevented BSE from entering the human foodsource in the US, and until recently the last cow that tested positive for BSE was in 2006.

Gradual fiscal cutbacks, however, have resulted in the current/ongoing BSE surveillance program, where the policy is to test 40,000 of the nearly 40 million US cattle each year. At 0.001%, some advocacy groups are claiming this is not adequate surveillance. The recent discovery of a BSE cow in California (the fourth ever detected in the US) has fueled the debate, in addition to recent scientific discovery of different prion variants and possible increased infectious qualities. Simply put, the current surveillance program is not comprehensive enough to protect the public. It is necessary for the current cattle feed and processing policies to continue, as well as an increase in BSE surveillance of the cattle population.



One Response to “It’s a Mad Mad World…”

  1. joeleemcdonnell Says:

    As I understand it BSE tests are not conducted on cuts of meat, but on samples of brain tissue from dead animals to see if the infectious agent is present. The earliest point at which current tests can accurately detect BSE is 2-to-3 months before an animal begins to show symptoms and the time between initial infection and the appearance of symptoms is about 5 years. Since most cattle that go to slaughter in the United States are both young and clinically normal, testing all slaughter cattle for BSE might offer misleading assurances of safety to the public.

    As per the FDA, the BSE surveillance program is not to establish food safety but instead is an animal health surveillance program. It allows the USDA to detect the disease if it exists at very low levels in the U.S. cattle population. Then appropriate safeguards can be put into place in place to prevent BSE spread.
    I agree that surveillance is still important but it’s also important for the public to understand what the surveillance really does. Overall the risk to the US public is low which suggests that the surveillance isn’t necessary but based on the above it more likely suggests that the surveillance is effective.

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