Finding mad cow a win, not a loss, for system

By Paul Harris

A Kansas State University scientist sees the recent case of mad cow disease in California more as a story of success than a scare.

Mad Cow or Bovine spongiform encephalopathy occurs when prions, an infectious protein particle, cause the cow’s brain to swell. According to the FDA, the cow has trouble standing, walking, or may become very violent. The disease is not contagious.

The California cow was milk-producing cow and was euthanized after it became lame and started lying down. The cow was 10 years old, which is considered old for cows.

Dan Thomson, a faculty member and clinician at the College of Veterinary Medicine considered a leader in beef cattle management and production, said the California case was a spontaneous one, the fourth of its kind in the United States. There is nothing that USDA can do to prevent spontaneous cases of mad cow, Thomson said.

He also said Americans need to be assured that the cow in California was nowhere close to being entered in to the food chain.

“This was not a breach in the system,” Thomson said. “We should congratulate the FDA and the USDA for having preventative measures and surveillance systems. There are firewalls that have been in place since the 1980s.”

Humans can get sick from eating meat from a cow with BSE, but they cannot get sick from drinking milk from an ill bovine, according to the FDA.

Mad Cow usually happens in animals that are 30 months and older because that’s how long it takes the protein that causes mad cow disease to develop.

“Whenever we see older bulls exhibiting central nervous systems they will enter in to the monitoring program,” Thomson said.

Once they show signs of central nervous systems disorders or are having trouble standing, Thomson said the animals are removed from the food chain.

“We just condemn all animals exhibiting those signs,” he added. 

Central nervous tissue is taken from those animals and tested for BSE, Thomson said.

“This is something that does not happen in the United States,” he said. “We have the world’s safest food supply.”

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