Mad Cow Disease Returns To America: Should We Be Worried?
Mad cow disease has reared its ugly head once again in the United States and government officials are scrambling to calm fears over the virus rapidly spreading.
The first case of mad cow disease (known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or B.S.E.) in the past six years was found this week in a dairy cow in California. According to the U.S. government the animal has not been slaughtered for food and therefore consumers shouldn’t be worried, but considering the infection decimated English cattle herds in the 1980s and 1990s and was also linked to about 225 cases worldwide of a fatal human brain aliment known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, alarm bells are definitely ringing.
“The beef and dairy in the American food supply is safe and USDA remains confident in the health of U.S. cattle,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week to ease people’s fears. “USDA has no reason to believe any other U.S. animals are currently affected, but we will remain vigilant and committed to the safeguards in place.”
But of the millions of cows slaughtered each year, the government tests only 40,000 for the disease. “We really don’t know if this is an isolated unusual event, or whether there are more cases in U.S. beef,” says Michael Hansen, a scientist at Consumers Union. “Our monitoring program is just too small.”
In South Korea the country’s top supermarket chains have already “temporarily” halted sales of U.S. beef, the Associated Press reports.
The European mad cow epidemic is believed to have started when cattle ate feed containing brain and nerve tissues from animals with the disease. Feed supplemented with meat and bones from specific animals is now banned everywhere, but how the California cow got the disease still remains unknown.