"MAD COW" DISEASE ERUPTS
in France, Italy, Spain and Germany
Due to its long incubation period, it is impossible to predict when and where bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its human equivalent, variant Creuzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD), will break out next. France now seems to be reliving the British experience with three cases of vCJD so far this year and 89 identified cases of BSE (as of November 5) compared with 30 in all of last year. The actual number is unknown, however, and is likely to be higher amongst cows fed fodder containing bonemeal and other ground up bits of diseased animals. In comparison, in spite of having precautions in place for a longer period, Britain expects the disease to be diagnosed in 2000 of its cows this year.
French fears were not calmed when a senior government adviser on BSE, Prof. Jeanne Brug-Picoux remarked that most French farmers and meat inspectors were incapable of recognizing the disease. "Of course there is infected meat being passed for human consumption," she said. "It is there either because of fraud or because our meat inspectors cannot diagnose BSE in its early stages." Meat inspectors threatened to strike over lack of training and not having enough inspectors to help detect the disease before the animals are slaughtered.
Beef sales declined by 60%. Schools took beef off their menus as British schools had done. The government banned the sale of T-bone steaks because of proximity to spinal column. Butchers in Marseilles responded with a free public barbecue of 3.6 tons of beef to somehow prove it was safe to eat. Animal products were banned in cattle feeds in 1990. A new temporary ban was declared on animal products in feed for any domestic animals. This means storing a million tons of unused feed and possibly having to dispose of it later as toxic waste. The government has set aside $400 million to aid distressed dairy and beef farmers and keep them in business.
Meanwhile, after a woman in Florence was diagnosed as having vCJD, Italian schools removed red meat from their menus. Italy, Hungary and Poland have banned imports of French beef and Germany is threatening to do so. Spain had banned imports of live cows for breeding before identifying it's first case of BSE on November 22. Portugal already has 466 (make that 467) cases.
The latest, November 24, is that BSE has been diagnosed in a cow born in Germany in 1996. Previously, infected animals identified in Germany had been imported from Britain or Switzerland. The disease was also detected in a 5-year old cow, who had been imported from Germany to the Azores which had been considered BSE free because their animals graze.
Britain, is still the most afflicted nation with the rate of vCJD still rising with 29 new cases this year, more than twice as many as in 1999. The death of a 74-year-old man indicates that the variant form of the disease strikes the old as well as the young. There have been two clusters of the disease: two near neighbors in Armthorpe, Yorkshire and four cases in Queniborough, Leceistershire. Worse yet, there is a worry that the disease may have occurred in sheep and been misdiagnosed as scrapie, a centuries old disease peculiar to sheep that is not known to affect humans although it is thought to have mutated into BSE and ultimately vCJD after sheep were ground up and incorporated in cow feed. There are contingency plans to slaughter all of Britain's 40 million sheep if diagnosis is confirmed. Adding to this concern, as of November 22, 40 sheep had died of an unknown illness in Australia, the same day that Spain confirmed her first case of BSE.
SOURCES: The Economist Nov 4, The Times (via ProMED Mail) 5 Nov, 12 Nov, 15 Nov; BBC News 14 Nov; The Arizona Republic Oct 28, Nov 18, Nov 23 ; AP, Nov 24 (all 2000 A.D.)
This disease is rampaging through cows far faster than governments' efforts to cope with it. More widespread occurrences augur ill for both cows and the humans who have eaten them. This article, which has undergone numerous revisions to keep up with developments, is almost certain to need updating before it even gets to the printer. Consumers would be well advised not to listen to government and industry reassurances and sever all dependence on beef and dairy products and preferably, while they are at it, all foods of animal origin.
North America is not officially considered to be at risk, but, as reported in previous issues of CivAb, similar encephalopathies have occurred in deer, elk, squirrels and mink. "Downer cow" disease has some suspicious similarities, and the deaths of a small number of human patients attributed to Alzheimer's were later found to have been caused by CJD, but not as far as we know vCJD although the end results are the same. The disease organism is constantly mutating, complicating diagnosis. Animal carcasses are being kept out of feeds for cows on a voluntary basis, but this may not be good enough.
The Civil Abolitionist