Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to johnc@cfra.org.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Another Mad Cow?

- from the desk of John Crabtree, Center for Rural Affairs, johnc@cfra.org
After reading a press report about another possible case of mad cow (see below) I am compelled to ask - is USDA and the federal government doing an adequate job of protecting our food system and, for that matter, family farmers and ranchers? We would like to hear what you think.

USDA investigating another possible mad cow case.
Libby Quaid
Associated Press

The government is investigating a possible new case of mad cow disease, but says there is no threat to the U.S. food supply.

Testing indicated the presence of the disease in a cow that died on the farm where it lived, John Clifford, the Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian, said Wednesday. The animal was burned and buried, the department said.

"It is important to note that this animal poses no threat to our food supply because it did not enter the human food or animal feed chains," Clifford said.

The cow probably was born in the United States and was at least 12 years old, Clifford said. He said the cow had complications while giving birth.

The department knows the location of the farm but is not disclosing it, he said. There currently is no quarantine on the farm. The department is conducting further tests at its laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and is sending tissue to be tested by the internationally recognized laboratory in Weybridge, England. Results should come in the next week, he said.

Two other cases of mad cow disease have been confirmed in the U.S. One was confirmed last month, in a Texas cow that died in November. The other was in a Canadian-born cow discovered in December 2003 in Washington state.

In this case, testing options are limited. The brain sample was preserved with formalin, making it unsuitable for all but one type of testing: immunohistochemistry, or IHC. That test returned conflicting results on the Texas cow. "It is possible for an IHC test to yield differing results depending on the slice of tissue that is tested," Clifford said. "Therefore, scientists at our laboratory and at Weybridge will run the IHC test on additional slices of tissue from this animal to determine whether or not it was infected."

The animal died in April, but the veterinarian who removed the brain forgot to send in the sample until last week, Clifford said. "While that time lag is not optimal, it has no implications in terms of the risk to human health," he said. "The carcass of this animal was destroyed. Therefore, there is absolutely no risk to human or animal health from this animal."

Since the suspect cow's death, the department has changed its rules and no longer allows tissue to be preserved in formalin. Samples now must be shipped immediately, while they are fresh.
While testing in Ames has indicated the presence of mad cow disease, the sample did not look like a typical case of BSE, Clifford said. He said it did not have the normal distribution of prions, the misfolded mad cow protein that kills brain cells and leaves spongy holes behind.

Clifford said the possibility of another case should not hinder efforts to persuade Japan to lift a ban on U.S. beef imposed after the Washington state case. Japan, which purchased $1.5 billion in beef in 2003, agreed to lift its ban last fall but still has not done so.

The brain-wasting disease is known medically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. In people, eating meat products contaminated with BSE is linked to about 150 deaths from a fatal disorder called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Most of the deaths were in the United Kingdom, where there was an outbreak in the 1980s and 1990s.

Posted by
John Crabtree
Center for Rural Affairs
402-687-2103 ext. 1010
johnc@cfra.org

5 Comments:

  • At 11:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    With another possible case of mad cow disease in this country, I don't think we can be as judgmental and hypocritical about the Canadians wanting to bring their cattle across the borders. I do believe that the USDA is setting strict guidlines, but obviously they may not be strict enough. Its no wonder why Japan and other countries don't want our beef coming into their countries.

     
  • At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have two questions: Do you think its fair to say that the press makes more out of this story than necessary? Do you think that this is just another scare tactic? We don't even know if the cow in fact has mad cow. What are the thoughts from CRA?

     
  • At 6:26 PM, Blogger Center for Rural Affairs said…

    I will answer your questions from my perspective, which is certainly what the Center for Rural Affairs thinks in part.

    1. Does the media, and for that matter, do consumers, overreact to these mad cow announcements? Yes and no. People, reporters and consumers alike, are have a high level of concern over these reports - understandably so. But in the long run, both consumers and people in the media have viewed these cases in the proper context. That there is risk and that we need rules and regulations in place that protect citizens from those risks

    I have 2 other related concerns. That with the numer of cases slowly growing all of us will become accustomed to the occassional announcement, that is not good for consumer safety or for the formation of effective public policy.

    And that USDA, in an effort to contain unreasonable responses (or panic) could end up downplaying real risk and standing by policy decisions not because it is the best policy but in order to assuage fear.

    I think that a vast majority of media outlets and most, if not all, government agencies with any responsibility over these issues avoid using scare tactics around this issue. In truth, my fear is that we may, in the end, not be fearful enough.

    John Crabtree
    johnc@cfra.org
    Center for Rural Affairs
    Values. Worth. Action.

     
  • At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As is often the case the cow in question did not have BSE. The USDA is doing an excellent job of balancing the concerns of the beef industry with the concerns of the consumer.

     
  • At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    aren't the interests of the beef industry and beef consumers virtually the same? Why would these intersts have to be balanced, one against the other? Who in the beef industry has interests contrary to consumers? The packers?

     

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