U.S. testing mad cow

Reactions to this week’s announcement of a positive mad cow test in the U.S. varied from alarm to apathy.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | June 25, 2005

Reactions to this week’s announcement of a positive mad cow test in the U.S. varied from alarm to apathy.

U.S. officials indicated they were hoping DNA testing would help pinpoint the herd of the cow that tested positive for the disease. After they find the herd, officials hope to track the feed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the test results on Friday. It may be the first native-born case of mad cow disease in the United States. The only other U.S. case was in 2003 in a dairy cow imported from Canada.

U.S. federal officials in 1997 banned the feeding of cattle remains to cattle, though consumer groups say loopholes remain. The newly diagnosed cow was born before that ban took place.

Ranchers reacted with concern. The 2003 mad cow case resulted in 50 countries imposing bans on American beef, causing billions of dollars of losses for the U.S. beef industry. Taiwan re-imposed its ban this week, only two months after resuming imports in the wake of the 2003 mad cow case.

Statistically for the average beef consumer, it’s a minor concern compared with more common diseases such as salmonella, according to researchers at both Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University. Researchers at both institutions found that mad cow poses a very low risk to U.S. food supplies.

Mad cow is caused by a harmful type of protein called a prion. Cattle get mad cow disease from eating contaminated feed.

Eating meat products with mad cow can cause the human form of the disease, which is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

People with the disease typically - over the course of a year - become unable to move or speak, fall into a coma, and die. The disease is linked to 150 people worldwide, and most of the deaths have been in Britain.

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