Mad cow disease in the US

After reading the “brains” thread, I’m curious as to why mad cow disease isn’t seen as a threat in America. Several European countries, most notably France, have assumed a “we’re fine, no problems here” stance in recent years, and now cases are coming increasingly to light in these states.

Are restriction on cattle-feed / sheep-feed strictly enforced enought in the US that BSE is unlikely to take hold? Are there other reasons why it has apparently not taken root in the US? Or is there a degree of complacency that needs to be removed?

I’ve tried search engines for the answer, but all I could find recently were health news articles on the odd outbreak and resultant cull in a couple of herds in the US.

I ran across something about this in a book called ** From Naked Ape to Superspecies** by David Suzuki, a Canadian biologist, journalist, and enviromental activist.

to paraphrase:

You remember Oprah Winfrey being sued by some Texas cattlemen a few years ago, after a show where Howard Lyman, an activist with the SPCA and a former Montana cattle rancher, talked about how cows and sheep were being fed the ground-up and cooked down flesh and blood of their own, and other, species? In August 1997, as a result of that show, the USDA and the FDA passed regulations against feeding ruminant animals to ruminants.

Of course, this didn’t stop cows from being fed to pigs, or pigs to cows.

The lawsuit against Winfrey and Lyman came under a new [at the time] state law [The Food Disparagement Act} prohibiting anyone from making disparaging remarks about food. Oprah won the lawsuit, but because she did, the law wasn’t challenged in a higher court. So, it’s still on the books.

end paraphrase.

The law being still on the books might explain why you can find very little media info on BSE. They may avoid the topic for fear of being sued. I’d vote for complacency stemming from that fear as the answer to the OP.

Check out the CDC or FDA websites for info on BSE/CJD. They’re located at and respectively.

I did a quick search for “cjd” and was returned thousands of documents. Here are a few:
My summary: A review of the numbers of probable CJD cases in the US in the 70’s and 80’s, with projections for the 90’s
My Summary: a good review of the BSE/CJD phenomenom and several countries’ efforts to abate the risk.
Abstract: After a cluster of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) cases among unusually young patients was reported recently from the United Kingdom, we examined trends and the current incidence of CJD in the United States. We found that the age-adjusted CJD death rate in the United States is similar to published estimates of the crude incidence of CJD worldwide and has continued to be stable from 1979 through 1994. The number of CJD deaths in persons <45 years of age remained stable during this period. We found no evidence of the variant form of CJD.
My Summary: FDA Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 589) restrictions on feed additives - includes steps to reduce BSE risk.

Bottom line: let your fingers do the walking and let the government do the work.

We’re not safe at all… but it was hit on the head. To avoid being sued. There was a very good book on it writen by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, called Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare happen here

It’s a scary scary book.


If you get time, please check out this article at Here

Maybe I could ask your opinion of it afterwards?

Matt, you might want to check out the whole site at
the link aenea provided.

Thanks all for the links and information - aenea, nothamlet, that’s a great site.

I skimmed that article, aenea, and I’ve got to admit I’d never heard of this before, despite the article talking about press attention in the UK. There’s usually some evil bug that’s going to kill us all in the papers once a year; we’ve had salmonella in eggs, CJD, necrotising fasciitis, ebola and so on over recent years. I tend to tune them out after a while.

I’m a heavy milk drinker, which is a little worrying given the tone of the story. Mind you, I still eat beef from time to time. The consensus in the UK seems to be that the real danger period for CJD was in the early to mid 1980s, and that it’s relatively safe now; if we’re going to get the disease, we’ve more than likely already got it now. (This is also the opinion of my dad, who’s a fairly well-respected food research scientist). Besides, the latest stories I’ve heard are that the French are going to have a much worse time, given the entrenched political power of farmers there to resist regulation, and that they’re exporting their beef left, right and centre, often with it being re-exported under a “safe” Irish label.

It does look like the US and Canada may yet have a problem.

Just thought I’d share this recent article on the subject.

“Disparagement of Meat” law? Hel-LO. Anybody remember a little thing called the First Amendment?

That such a law exists is, frankly, SICK and TWISTED, especially since it can be used to stifle information that may actually save people’s lives. Now with Bush & Cheney in the White House the beef barons will be feeling fat & powerful & arrogant more than ever, and will not miss an opportunity to stomp out dissenting voices. (But the past few days, the arrival of mad cow disease in America is too big a story to suppress; I saw a front-page story in USA Today).

It’s about time this benighted law went the way of the Alien & Sedition Acts.

Happily Vegan

Perhaps this has been raised before, but has it been absolutely proven that these “prions” are the cause of MCD? I remember watching a show on the subject, and one scientist found that these prions were very nearly indistructable. Yet, it is not clear how prions do their deadly work-or at what level of them, eating beef becomes a danger.

During my career as a neurologist so far, including my med school and residency training, which covers the past 16 years altogether, I’ve seen a total of 5 patients with confirmed CJD.

It is pretty rare, but also pretty horrible. In none of the cases, which ranged in age from 45 to 65, could we identify a likely cause. A couple of the patients had a history of remote blood transfusions and surgery. I think all of them had had dental work at some time. None, so far as I recall had tissue transplants or were exposed to Human Growth Hormone (a known transmitter of prions in the old days when hGH was derived from cadaver pituitaries…) One of the patients was a cattle rancher from Northern California, which didn’t ring any bells with me at the time (before this paranoia about MCD).

How do prions cause disease? That’s a damn good question. There is no DNA or RNA in prions, so they are not viruses or bacteria, or indeed, from the point of view of classical biology, living things. They are proteinaceous particles that have the interesting ability to “infect” organisms, in which they cause disease and “reproduce.” Because of the latter characteristic, they cannot be viewed simply as “toxins.” Toxins may cause damage, but they are not living and do not “reproduce.”

One theory is that these prions incorporate themselves into the host genome, or there is some latent gene in the host that they “trigger” to produce more prions. According to this theory, the “Prion Protein Gene” (PrPG) behaves somewhat like an “oncogene.”

The explanation that I find most compelling is that the prion acts like some sort of “seed crystal.” It gains access to the organism and reproduces by simple thermodynamic molecular interactions with host molecules, in the same basic way that a seed crystal can percipitate a condensation chain reaction in a supersaturated solution. That, at least, is they way I view the process, and although I have not read about this idea elsewhere, it seems to make sense, and I’m sure others must have considered it.

The good news is that there seems to be a good biochemical test for BSE in cattle, that gives a result in 24 hours. See Nature 2001; 409:476-478. The conventional mouse bioassay took 1-2 YEARS to give a result about a questionable cow…

Umm, Jomo Mojo, the First Amendment doesn’t protect libel or slander. Generally speaking, if someone makes false statements that they know are false and those statements cause injury to the person about whom the lies are told, that person can collect damages from the liar.

I haven’t looked at the food disparagement law that was involved in Oprah’s case, or any other state’s similar law. But, speaking totally generically, knowingly making false statements that food is unsafe can cost the producers and sellers of that food millions of dollars. Apples and alar, anyone? To say food is poisoned or diseased when you know that it isn’t is the slow-speed version of screaming “fire!” in a public building.

The reason Oprah won her case – and rightfully so – is because she didn’t make a false statement of FACT, she gave her OPINION, and it was clear that her statement was meant to be her opinion and not fact.