If you have ever read the book Deadly Feasts by Richard Rhodes, mad cow disease (and all its implications) has been a recurring nightmare for quite some time.
Rhodes’ book discusses the spread of mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), for the forty years leading up to the late 1990s and early 2000s. The book leaves the reader wondering when the next case of mad cow will strike — as though the spread of disease via meat production is an inevitability, but something our current food structure would like to ignore.
As it turns out, mad cow disease has decided to return to the States after a six year hibernation. But some are saying, once again, that this occurrence is no big deal.
A dairy cow in central California was recently diagnosed with BSE according to USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford. But Clifford also said, “at no time” did this dairy cow present a risk to the food supply or human health.
The rationale behind this is because, allegedly, this cow was never going to be slaughtered for human consumption — and, again allegedly, BSE cannot be transmitted via animal milk. It was, however, “found at a rendering plant, where spent animals are sent for processing into leather, soap, cosmetics and pet food. Tests detected the illness before slaughter.”
Saying there is no risk might seem awfully hasty, however, when considering the entire safety of the human population. There are some who would sleep better at night if more tests were done. But, unsafe meat often means profit loss in the world of agriculture.
Feasts’ research showed animals develop BSE through the consumption of rendered animal meat, or, essentially, forced animal cannibalism.
However, today’s dairy cow is reported to have a very rare form of the disease not associated with consuming infected feed — so, perhaps food manufacturers might need to revisit safety procedures to garner what did cause this strain of BSE.
Additionally, according to the Huffington Post’s live blog last month, “testing for mad cow disease fell 90% since 2005,” and this recent discovery was “a stroke of luck.”
Since the news, the dairy cow in question is scheduled to be destroyed, and Reuters reports the infected cow’s two offspring tested negative for BSE, though the farm where the infected cow was raised 10 years ago is being investigated.
According to eMedicineHealth.com, “if humans eat diseased tissue from cattle, they may develop the human form of mad cow disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) or new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD).”
In light of less than stellar mad cow disease testing, encouraged continuation of trade, mad cow’s long incubation period, and unclear long-term effects of the disease, it’s not exactly something with which to play Russian Roulette, because more than one chamber is loaded.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Hamed Saber