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Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease

Editorial By: www.eat-halal.com Staff (Updated December 31, 2003)


In late May 2003, Canada reported its first case of Mad Cow Disease in almost a decade. The disease was found in only one cow in Alberta and the cow in question did not enter the food chain. Thousands of cows have been slaughtered and tested, and all have tested negative and have been found to be free of Mad Cow Disease. Canadian beef has been scientifically proven to be safe. While the United States and Mexico have since partially opened their borders to Canadian beef, a number of countries including Japan, South Korea, Columbia, Indonesia, Singapore, and New Zealand continue to ban imports of Canadian beef and beef products.

In December 2003, a cow in the United States tested positive for Mad Cow Disease. Further investigation revealed that the cow had been imported into the United States from Canada. The fallout from this most recent case has the potential to totally devastate the Canadian beef industry, as well as the US beef industry, albeit to a lesser extent.

These bans, although temporary, are having a profound negative impact on the Canadian beef industry. The industry is losing millions of dollars for each day that the bans stay in place.

Canadians are being asked to show their support for the Canadian beef industry by purchasing and consuming Canadian beef.

eat-halal.com exclusive:

What is Mad Cow Disease?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease, is a degenerative brain disease of cattle that has been linked to a form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a fatal degenerative brain disease in humans. Symptoms of BSE in cattle include loss of coordination, a staggering gait, difficulty rising, decreased milk production, and loss of body weight. Affected animals also show signs of behavioral changes—for example, nervousness, aggression, and a lack of interest in surroundings. The period from infection to onset of the disease, known as the incubation period, is from two to eight or more years. Once symptoms develop, animals progressively deteriorate and die within several months.

BSE was first identified in Britain in November 1986, and more than 180,000 cases had been recorded by early 2001. Studies indicated that more than 1 million animals had been infected during this period, but most went undiagnosed or were slaughtered before symptoms developed. Cases in native-born cattle have been confirmed in other European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. BSE has also been recognized in Canada, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), and Oman, where cases are confined to cows imported from Britain. BSE has not been officially confirmed in the United States, although in March 2001 the federal government seized about 300 sheep from Vermont farms that had been imported from Belgium and The Netherlands. The sheep showed no signs of disease, but veterinarians from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited concerns that these sheep may have been exposed to BSE before they were imported to the United States.

Autopsies of affected cattle reveal telltale holes in the brain tissue that give it a spongiform, or spongy, texture similar to that of Swiss cheese. Similar spongiform brain changes have been recognized in humans, as in the case of CJD, for more than a century and in sheep (scrapie) for more than 200 years. The cause of BSE is unproven, although there is strong evidence that the disease may be caused by prions, normal proteins that fold into abnormal shapes and become infectious. As prions accumulate in the brain, they cause a spongiform change to neurons and produce the characteristic symptoms of the disease. Other hypotheses suggest that prions work with an as yet undetected virus to cause the infection.

Health officials identified animal feed containing recycled animal tissue as the source of the infection that led to the BSE cattle epidemic in the United Kingdom. This type of animal feed has been routinely fed to dairy cows as a protein supplement for most of the 20th century. But in the 1980s rendering (the cooking method used to process hide, bones, and other inedible tissue after slaughter) changed in a way that may have enabled the survival of the BSE infectious agent. The European Commission’s Scientific Veterinary Committee and the world control body, the Office Internationale des Epizooties (OIE), believe that BSE was originally spread to cattle from animal feed containing sheep’s brains and other sheep byproducts infected with scrapie and, later, brain tissue taken from cows that had become infected with BSE. The epidemic spread when the brains and other rendered products from infected cattle were used in protein supplements distributed throughout Britain.

Since the initial report of the disease, there has been fear and speculation that it might be transferable to humans through beef products. The appearance of CJD in several dairy farmers in Britain in the early 1990s heightened the alarm. The medical community was aware of the similarity of CJD symptoms to those of BSE and was also aware that a related disease, known as kuru, was spread by ritualistic cannibalism among New Guinea tribesmen.

Since 1996, a number of studies have confirmed that BSE in cattle can be transmitted to humans and cause vCJD. Studies have linked the time and location of the BSE epidemic in cattle to more than 94 human cases of vCJD found in Britain, France, and Ireland. In studies in which scientists injected monkeys and mice with brain tissue from BSE-infected cows or brain tissue from vCJD-infected humans, the animals develop the same type of brain degeneration. This degeneration is distinguishable from the degeneration following injection with brain tissue from cases of the classical form of CJD.

“Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE),” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2003

http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Should I stop eating Canadian beef and beef products?

“Because the animal was condemned, no meat entered the human food supply. Therefore, we have no reason at this point to believe that there is a risk to human health. We are working closely with our partners to gather additional information. Given that the cattle get the disease by eating contaminated feed and there is a feed ban in place, the probability of having more infected animals is very low.” – Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Canadian beef has been scientifically proven to be safe, and based on recommendations from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we do not recommend that consumers avoid Canadian beef.

For the latest on Mad Cow Disease in Canada:

Mad Cow Disease

CBC News: “Mad Cow: The Science and the Story”

The Toronto Star: Mad Cow Disease Full Coverage

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