Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
Is Beef Safe to Eat?
United States beef is safe! The scientific community believes that there is no evidence to demonstrate that muscle cuts (i.e. steaks), whole muscle meats (i.e. roasts), or meat products (i.e. ground beef, sausages, etc.) that come from animals infected with BSE are at risk of harboring the causative agent of the disease. The agents responsible for BSE are found in neurological tissues like the brain and spinal cords. Spinal cords are not meat and may not be added to meat products. Brains may be sold for consumption, but are not commonly consumed by the American population. Brains are not added to processed meat products such as hot dogs and other sausages as an ingredient. Furthermore, since these materials are not considered as “meat” by the USDA, if they were used, they would have to be declared in the ingredient statement of the product.
BSE and Implications for Humans
BSE is an animal disease that affects cattle. However, other TSEs affect humans. Scientific evidence supports a causal relationship between BSE outbreaks in Europe and another TSE disease in humans, called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD). However, scientists believe that it is not easy to contract vCJD. Early in the BSE epidemic in the United Kingdom, when little was understood about the disease, U.K. citizens routinely consumed beef brains in a variety of British dishes. It has been reported that the increase in vCJD cases occurred due to the diets of the victims. In fact, the world’s leading experts believe those who developed vCJD probably had a certain genetic predisposition that was triggered by such high levels of exposure to the BSE agent. While 183,000 cases of BSE have been diagnosed in U.K. cattle, less than 150 cases of vCJD have been diagnosed.
The U.S. "Firewall" or "Safeguard" System to Protect American cattle Herds and Food Supply
The United States has implemented a "Firewall" or "Safeguard" system that includes:
"Mad Cow Disease" is a nickname for a livestock disease called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). The disease has afflicted cattle in a number of countries around the world, and recently one cow in the United States. As of the announcement by the Agriculture Secretary, Ann M. Veneman, on December 23, 2003, the disease has been found in one cow located in Washington State.
BSE is a degenerative neurological animal disease caused by an aberrant protein called a prion. It is in the family of diseases - all caused by prions - referred to as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy's, or TSEs. Spongiform comes from the fact that the brain takes on the structure of a sponge. Encephalopathy's are diseases of the brain. TSEs include scrapie in sheep and goats, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, in humans.
It’s important to note that TSEs are not communicable diseases - they do not spread easily like viruses. TSE’s are diseases of the central nervous system and slowly cause its failure. All have long incubation periods lasting from months to years. There is no cure and they are always fatal.
What Caused BSE?
The exact cause of BSE is unknown, but the leading scientific theory suggests that BSE was likely caused in U.K. cattle as a result of feed made from infected cattle protein. A common practice, which has been banned since August of 1997, resulted in the feeding of proteins from infected cattle to other ruminant animals (e.g. cattle). Since the infected cow found in Washington State was approximately 6˝ years old, she would have been born before feed bans were implemented, and therefore feed may have been the avenue for the disease to occur.
Background on BSE
The following are some points to remember regarding BSE:
Health Risks in Perspective
Certainly it is appropriate to strive for “zero risk” in our food supply, but we must realize that “zero” is often unattainable. The available evidence suggests that the risk to the consumer of BSE in our American beef supply is very minimal.
Further InformationFor more information on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and to follow the progress of the U.S. BSE investigation, visit the following websites:
American Association of Meat Processors
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
United States Department of Agriculture
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
1-888-674-6854 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
with other food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA. The
hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday. Recorded
food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.