News and analysis: Canada, U.S., have 'steak' in stopping epidemic
I did a little leg work at a couple neighborhood groceries today. The manager at Trader Joe's said he believes the chain will withstand the fallout from the mad cow disease problem because people have more confidence in natural foods stores than in their mainstream counterparts. Clerks at general merchandiser Fred Meyer said they have not noticed any dimunition in sales of beef.
"Actually, people are still buying beef, including hamburger and tube steaks. They don't seem to be aware of the situation. Or, maybe they don't care about it,' one of them told me.
Meanwhile, more has been learned about the cow at the center of the controversy.
The Mabton, Wash., farmer who owned a Holstein with mad cow disease now says the animal was born four months before the United States and Canada banned feed containing processed cow parts known in some cases to spread the fatal illness.
That knowledge helped pinpoint the cow's origin and the likely means of infection on a day when officials revealed they are searching for eight cows thought to be from the same Canadian herd as the sick cow and imported to the United States.
After checking his records more carefully, the Mabton farmer told U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian Dr. Ron DeHaven that the cow was 61/2 when slaughtered Dec. 9, two years older than he previously thought, DeHaven said Monday. The cow was born in April 1997; the ban went into effect in August 1997.
"The age of the animal is especially important in that it is a likely explanation as to how this animal would have become infected. She would have been born before feed bans," DeHaven.
Feed containing protein from animals with mad cow or a sister disease "is the primary, if not in fact the only, means by which" the disease spreads among animals, he said
The ban on feeding cows cannibalistically, i.e., parts of other ruminants, went into effect because the practice is the major conduit for infecting healthy cattle with the disease. However, there are ways around it. Some farmers feed their chickens cow parts and then turn around and feed chicken litter, including feces and feathers, to their cows. Until evasions are legislated against, animal feed will likely to continue to be a vector for the disease.
Once cows become infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, it gradually eats holes in their brains, leading to various physical anomalies. All cases of mad cow disease are fatal. Humans are believed to be capable of catching the disease if they come into contact with the brain, spinal column or intestines of an infected cow because most of the antagonistic prions are concentrated there. Its human variant is also fatal.
It has been confirmed the cow was born in Canada and imported to the U.S. The eight cows from the same group not yet tracked may have also been exported. Canadian officials may respond to the outbreak by setting new rules to guard herds against mad cow disease.
OTTAWA (CP) - Canada will increase its testing for mad cow disease and may further tighten its regulations on the feeding of slaughterhouse waste to cattle, says a spokeswoman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Francine Lord said new policies to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) will likely be announced soon in the new year.
"Definitely, there's going to be more testing," said Lord, who is national manager of import-export issues for the federal agency.
. . .Currently, Canada and the United States test only a tiny percentage of their cattle for BSE. Japan tests every cow before it is slaughtered and the European Union tests an estimated 25 per cent.
The U.S. Agriculture Department tests only about 20,000 to 30,000 cows per year out of a total of 104 million - roughly two or three per 10,000.
Cattle raisers balk at the prospect of more testing because they consider it too costly. However, not doing as much as possible to maintain confidence in the North American beef supply could prove more costly in the long run.
More information about mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is available at The Official Mad Cow Disease Home Page.