Monday, February 02, 2004

BSE Tidbit of the Week

Bleifuss points out some rather old information about BSE:
    To all indications, and contrary to recent news reports, an American strain of BSE has long been circulating through the food chain. In 1985, a Stentsonville, Wisconsin, mink ranch was wiped out by transmissible mink encephalopathy. The diet of the mink consisted of 5 percent horsemeat and 95 percent “downer cows”—cows so lame they fall down and are unable to get up.

    Could one of those downer cows fed to the mink have been infected with an American strain of BSE? In December 1992, the late Richard Marsh, a veterinary scientist at the University of Wisconsin, reported on experiments in Mission, Texas, and Ames, Iowa, where brain matter from scrapie-infected American sheep was injected into the brains of cows. The infected cows developed BSE, but their symptoms differed from the mad cow disease that was plaguing Europe. In May 1993, Marsh told me, “The signs that these cattle showed were not the widely recognized signs of BSE—not signs of mad cow disease. What they showed was what you might expect from a downer cow.” In other words, BSE-infected cattle in Europe went mad before dying, but BSE-infected cows in the United States simply fell down and died. Each year in the United States about 150,000 cattle suffer from downer cow syndrome. Those downer cows that made it out of the pasture alive ended up in the slaughterhouse and into the food chain. Until 1996, when the practice was banned by the USDA, the slaughterhouse remains of at least 14 percent of all cattle, including downer cows, were rendered into protein and fed back to other cows as feed supplements. What’s more, the meat from these tough and old downer cows usually ended up in fast-food hamburgers and other highly processed meat products—that is until the slaughter of downer cows was halted by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on December 30, 2003.

As the months go by, I think we'll find more and more evidence that indicates we have a quite a problem on our hands, which makes this my understatement of the day.