Black People : Q&A re: The Mad Cow Disease...

Aqil

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Americans eat about 65 pounds of beef every year. As federal investigators try to determine how a cow in Washington state may have become infected with the brain-wasting illness, mad cow disease, some consumers are wondering if they need to take any precautions and change their diets.

Q: Why is mad cow disease a concern?

A: A human disease related to mad cow is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It is incurable and was blamed for 143 deaths in Britain, which suffered a mad cow disease outbreak in the 1980s. Humans can get it by eating meat that contains tissue from infected animals, specifically from the brain and spinal cord.

Q: Is it likely I will get sick from eating beef?

A: Mad cow disease, officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, (BSE) has not been found in beef muscle or dairy products. Scientists say the disease is found only in nerve tissue, specifically the brain and spinal cord. So experts say beef steaks and roasts are safe, along with hamburger ground from labeled cuts, such as chuck or round. Meat such as the liver and tongue also are safe.

Q: Are processed beef products riskier to eat?

A: Slightly. Meat such as ground beef, hot dogs, taco meat, and luncheon meats are made from several sources of meat. They are obtained by machines, known as "advanced meat recovery systems," that strip flesh from the spines and other awkwardly shaped parts of the cow. Some tests have detected tissue from the central nervous system in samples of beef products. However, many meat companies remove the spine and brain before processing.

Such tissues are not supposed to be in meat products in the United States unless they are labeled. Industry officials say Agriculture Department tests on beef products found incidental amounts of central nervous system cells.

Q: How can the government ensure that beef is safe?

A: In the case of the cow in Washington, federal and state officials have quarantined the herd on the farm where the animal came from. If tests in England confirm that the cow had BSE, then the herd will be slaughtered to prevent an outbreak. Investigators also are tracing where the meat from the animal was sent. Beef and cattle imported from countries with BSE are banned.

Also, the government has banned since 1997 cattle feed made with protein or bone meal from being fed to other grazing animals - cattle, goats and sheep. Farmers used to feed such meal to their animals because it helped them gain weight. Consumer groups argue there are too many loopholes in the system, though. They have demanded wider testing and better tracking of sick animals.

Q: The cow was a "downer" animal that was injured when giving birth. Why are these animals allowed into the food supply?

A: The Agriculture Department allows such animals into the food supply if they are not sick. Federal veterinarians check the animals for signs of illness before they are processed. If an animal is sick, it isn't allowed to be slaughtered for meat and tests are run to determine what ails it. Often, "downer" animals are processed for pet food because their meat is rendered, a process that basically cooks the meat and kills disease.

Q: Can my pets get sick with mad cow?

A: Mad cow disease is one of a family of illnesses that has only been known to infect animals such as cattle, sheep, elk and deer. The cow likely was sick from eating feed made from an infected cow, even though that type of feed is banned. If that's true, other cattle also might be infected and they might have been processed into food for humans by accident. Or they might have been ground into animal feed that could infect other livestock that people could someday eat.

The Food and Drug Administration is working with the Agriculture Department to determine the source of the illness.
 

Aqil

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Feb 3, 2001
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A human disease related to mad cow is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. It is incurable and was blamed for 143 deaths in Britain, which suffered a mad cow disease outbreak in the 1980s. Humans can get it by eating meat that contains tissue from infected animals, specifically from the brain and spinal cord.
From an AP story earlier this year:

DENVER (AP) — Two patients have died at a Colorado hospital this year from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), an illness similar to the mad cow disease, and there is concern other patients may have been exposed, a hospital spokeswoman said Friday.

The patients, both over 60, died in January and February at Exempla St. Joseph Hospital, said Steve Krizman, a spokesman for Kaiser-Permanente, the health maintenance organization that cared for them.

Hospital spokeswoman Kathleen Ferguson said at least six other patients may have been exposed to the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease through surgical instruments used while treating one of the two who died.

The instruments were sterilized after each use, but no studies have been done to show whether sterilization procedures are effective against the proteins that cause the disease, said Dr. Cathy van Blerkom, chair of the hospital's Department of Pathology and Infection Control. "There are a lot of unknowns in this disease," she said.

The Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease attacks the brain, killing cells and creating gaps in tissue. The brain takes on a sponge-like appearance. Early symptoms include memory problems, mood changes and lack of coordination. The disease progresses to shakiness and dementia. Victims are eventually unable to move or speak.

A separate form of the disease has been linked directly to eating meat from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. Nearly 100 people in Europe have died of the disease since 1995.

About two cases of the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease are reported in Colorado every year, said Cindy Parmenter of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "We had four in 2000 and two or three in years before that," Parmenter said. "It usually happens in people 60 and older. It's not totally unusual."
 

Aqil

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Feb 3, 2001
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You're welcome Queen. Here is more information for topic discussion:

Mad Cow Case Has Not Choked U.S. Appetite For Beef: Industry

WASHINGTON (AFP) - U.S. authorities were racing to track down recalled meat linked to a cow infected with mad cow disease, as fast food operators across the United States insisted that the scare has not dented Americans hunger for beef burgers. As investigators scramble to locate recalled beef sold across eight western states, McDonald's - the world's biggest fast-food chain - said that as of Dec. 27, its domestic sales had been unaffected by the scare.

Wary of public fears, the White House has also stressed that President Bush continues to show a healthy appetite for beef.

Following tests, U.S. officials confirmed the country's first mad cow case Friday from an affected Holstein dairy cow in the northwest state of Washington. Meat from that and 19 other slaughtered cows was sold in Washington state, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Montana, Hawaii, Idaho, as well as the U.S. territory of Guam, according to Kenneth Petersen of the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Prior to Sunday, the recall was just limited to just four states.

Officials Saturday were unable to detail how much of the recalled meat had been found, and it appears possible some of the recalled meat has already been eaten by unsuspecting consumers. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said meat from the affected animal represents a "minuscule" risk to humans, and that the disease primarily affects a cow's central nervous system. Chief U.S. Veterinary officer, Ron DeHaven, said Saturday, "there is no scientific evidence to suggest that milk or dairy products can carry the mad cow disease to humans."

Despite such reassurances, over 30 countries have halted U.S. beef imports in response to the mad cow case, but McDonald's says it's had no impact on sales. "We've noticed no reduction in the beef product being purchased. We continue to monitor this situation closely," said Walt Riker, McDonald's vice president for media relations. He stressed McDonald's has very stringent protections in place to protect its customers from tainted foods. "These policies meet, or exceed all government requirements, and have been reviewed by our International Scientific Advisory Council on BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)," Riker said.

Neither has President Bush changed his eating habits in the wake of the case. "He has continued to eat beef, he has eaten beef in the last couple of days," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters earlier this week in reference to the president's reaction to the matter.

Despite Americans unabashed appetite for beef and official reassurances, activists and some lawmakers are calling for a tightening up of the country's food safety protections. Michael Hansen, with the advocacy group Consumers Union, said the United States should adopt the same stringent testing as Europe and Japan. Activists point out that although 37 million cows were slaughtered here last year, only 20,000 were tested for mad cow disease.

DeHaven said the first US cow infected with mad cow disease was imported from Canada. The cow was part of a lot of animals brought into Washington state from Canada in 2001, DeHaven told reporters, citing "very preliminary information." "That information would suggest that the infected animal likely entered the United States as part of a group of 74 dairy cattle that were imported through the border crossing at Eastport, Idaho, originating from a dairy herd in Alberta, Canada in 2001," DeHaven explained.

A case of mad cow disease was reported in Alberta, Canada, last spring, but Canadian officials have cautioned against a rush to judgement. The U.S. farm where the infected cow was kept before slaughter has put its remaining 4,000 head of cattle under quarantine.

The mad cow disease has been linked to a form of the fatal, brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that affects humans.
 

Aqil

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Mad Cow Case Sheds Light On Beef Uses

By Stephanie Simon
LA Times Staff Writer

It was just one cow, one lame, worn-out Holstein dragged to slaughter in a corner of the country. But the discovery that she was infected with mad cow disease has forced broader scrutiny of the U.S. food supply. The positive test, disclosed just before Christmas, has pulled back a curtain on the alchemistic processes that convert every last scrap of slaughtered livestock into ingredients for consumer products: marshmallows and cereal bars, dog food and poultry rations, lipstick and hand lotion and garden fertilizers, tires and yogurt and breath mints.

Federal officials and most outside experts continue to reassure the public that the risk from the one sick Holstein is extremely minimal — "virtually zero," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As the USDA has repeatedly noted, the mutant proteins, known as prions, that cause and transmit mad cow disease do not concentrate in the muscle tissue that provides steaks, roasts and ground beef. Instead, the deadly prions tend to group in the brain, spinal column, intestines and bone marrow.

Most Americans do not knowingly eat those parts of a cow. But in a process that is largely unregulated, the entire cattle carcass — including high-risk organs and tissues — is routinely recycled into edible fats, flavorings and thickeners used in a wide range of common products. Freeze-dried bovine brains and other organs also turn up in dietary supplements sold in health-food stores. And bits of spinal tissue or bone sometimes slip into the 45 million pounds of beef a year that is trimmed off carcasses in a mechanized process known as "advanced meat recovery."

Humans can contract a form of mad cow disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from eating infected animal products; the deadly prions cannot be killed by cooking, irradiation, sterilization, or even chemical disinfectants. The illness, which can incubate silently, causing no symptoms for a decade or more, eats holes in the brain. It is always fatal; more than 150 people have died of it worldwide, most of them in Britain, where a mad cow epidemic ravaged herds in the 1980s.

To minimize the risk of infection from beef byproducts, the USDA announced several reforms last week. It will closely regulate mechanical meat stripping. Cattle intestines, where the prions may first take root, will no longer be allowed in the human food supply. The USDA is also banning consumption of brains and spinal cord from older cattle, which are most likely to be infected and infectious. Up to 85% of the cattle slaughtered in the U.S. are young steers; their organs (except intestines) can still enter the food supply. Two recent cases of mad cow disease in young cattle have been confirmed in Japan. The brain-wasting disease is formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

The mad cow scare has exposed America's food supply as a complex chain ever twisting back on itself — a system in which nothing is wasted. The efficiencies help keep food cheap. They also solve a major environmental challenge; billions of pounds of animal brains, hides, bones, feathers and guts are used each year, rather than burned or buried. "Our ancestors used everything but the 'moo,' and we continue to try to do that," said Will Hueston, director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of Minnesota. That efficiency, however, may open the door for contamination, since one carcass is turned into so many products and recycled through so many paths.

Any livestock carcasses that pass USDA inspection at the slaughterhouse — they are not necessarily tested for diseases but are visually examined — can enter the food supply. Considered edible waste, the carcasses are processed into lard, beef tallow and gelatin; those ingredients are then used in a range of foods, from candy to canned ham, sour cream to frosting, lozenges to soups. Gelatin even turns up in the gel-caps used for some pharmaceuticals. The Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America says that most gelatin made for human consumption is prepared from pigskins, but it is also sometimes made from cattle bones.

The USDA exercises no oversight over the animal carcasses once they leave the slaughterhouse. That's supposed to be the job of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA inspects all 239 U.S. rendering plants annually — but only for the limited purpose of making sure that any animal feed containing cattle parts is clearly labeled. "The agency does not audit the production of ingredients for human consumption. Nor does it check to ensure that gelatin, lard and tallow are made only from carcasses that have passed USDA inspection," said Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Indeed, Sundlof said the agency's lawyers are still looking into whether the FDA has the authority to set standards for the types of animal waste used in the edible rendering process. "We're still trying to look into what all comes out of that rendering stream," Sundlof said. The FDA is also researching whether it has the authority to take steps to ensure the safety of unregulated dietary supplements. Popular pills known as "glandulars" — marketed to boost energy and libido — often contain concentrated extracts from cattle glands and organs, such as the pituitary gland, liver, testicles and brain.

Experts say that rendering does not kill the prions that spread BSE. But they also say that the chance of infection from any rendered product is extremely low. Only the barest traces of cattle remains would be present in, say, canned soup or gummy candy. "I don't look at [rendered products] as being much of a risk at all, given that there's only been one infected cow found in this country so far," said Leon Thacker, director of the animal disease diagnostic lab at Purdue University. The FDA says all rendered products traced to the Holstein infected with mad cow disease have been put on a "voluntary hold," meaning the factories that made them are not supposed to release them for sale.

"Now that I know the byproducts of cattle can be in almost anything, I'm going to start reading labels," said Humberto Retana, 33, a stay-at-home dad from Oakland. Retana has been a vegetarian for more than a decade, steadfastly refusing the steaks his wife tries to tempt him with. But until the mad cow disease scare prompted him to start researching the meat industry, Retana had never realized how often he ate or used products made with rendered cattle parts. "The notion that every last bit of the cow needs to be turned into some kind of profit is just extraordinary," Retana said.

If the edible rendering market is largely hidden from public view, the parallel practice of inedible rendering is even more obscure. Plants that deal with inedible rendering take in all the livestock that the USDA deems unfit for human consumption, including cows that died from unexplained causes on farms, or arrive at slaughterhouses visibly ill, with tumors, wasted bodies, sunken eyes or clear neurological impairments. (Until a USDA reform last week, "downer" cattle, which cannot walk on their own, were still considered fit for human consumption as long as they didn't exhibit other signs of disease.)

Some inedible rendering plants also process dogs and cats that were euthanized in animal shelters, carcasses brought in by hunters, even road kill. They melt everything down at extremely high temperatures, sterilize it repeatedly and turn it into livestock feed, pet food, organic fertilizer and glycerine — an ingredient used in everything from crayons to cosmetics to toothpaste to fabric softener. In 1997, the FDA acted on concerns that animal feed containing rendered cattle could rapidly, and disastrously, spread BSE. The mad cow disease outbreak that infected more than a million British cows in the 1980s was spread in just that manner.

So the U.S. began insisting that all animal feed containing rendered cattle be labeled. American farmers were allowed to feed it only to poultry and to swine — species that are not known to contract BSE through infected rations. (Pet food containing rendered cattle can also be legally fed to cats, even though felines are susceptible to a brain-wasting illness very similar to mad cow disease.) Federal officials have repeatedly described the 1997 feed ban as a firewall protecting the U.S. from a Britain-style epidemic of mad cow. But the system is not airtight.

A report a year ago by the congressional watchdog, the U.S. General Accounting Office found flaws in the FDA's enforcement of the feed ban and widespread lapses at rendering plants and feed mills. The FDA says those problems have been fixed. Even so, some loopholes are built into the law. For instance: When feed containing rendered cattle is given to poultry, some of it scatters on the floor as the birds peck at it. The floor is also thick with excrement, feathers, dirt and bits of straw. Rather than throw all that waste away, farmers sweep it up and recycle it — by selling it as cattle feed. The FDA allows that practice, which is most common in the big chicken-producing states of the Southeast.

The ban on cattle eating cattle is circumvented in other ways too. It's legal to feed American cattle dry pet food that is past its expiration date. Yet that pet food is made from cattle carcasses. It's also legal to feed cattle supplements made from restaurant leftovers — including steaks and burgers. And calves are routinely fed formula, meant to replace their mothers' milk, that is made from dried cattle blood. Critics call it "the cannibalism circuit." Farmers reply that the practices not only prevent waste, they also save money — and keep food prices low.

A dairy cow, for instance, can more than double her milk output if she's fed high-protein supplements. The traditional bovine diet of grass doesn't provide enough calories for her to produce milk in the quantities that modern agriculture demands. The FDA issued a public notice 14 months ago that it was considering restricting the use of poultry litter, pet food and restaurant leftovers as cattle feed. It has not yet acted. Sundlof said the agency was still accepting public comment on the notice. "The challenge we face is that all these practices are tied together in one big system," Hueston said. "These are very complex issues, with social as well as biological and economic implications."

The issues clearly disturb some Americans; the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals reported receiving 10,000 requests in the last week for its free "vegan starter kit." That's triple its normal call volume. Overall, though, consumers continue to eat as much beef as always. McDonald's, Burger King and other restaurants have reported no drop in sales. Interviews around the country confirm that most people are sticking with their favorite foods. "We're beefeaters - end of story," said Steve McCarthy, who was downing brisket and sausage at a Houston barbecue joint last week.

In a public show of confidence in American cattle, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven made it their New Year's resolutions to eat beef more often. Hoeven then invited Gov. Tim Pawlenty of neighboring Minnesota to dine with him at a restaurant of his choice — any restaurant, that is, where the menu features steak."
 

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