Mad Cow Disease
Protecting Your Family from Mad Cow Disease
A Veterinarian's Perspective
Our grass fed beef sales have soared
since the discovery of mad cow disease in Canada this month.
When events like mad cow or E.coli hit the news, families seek
trusted sources for their beef.
Historically, mad cow has never been reported
in cattle which are totally grass fed. The outbreak in Britain and
Europe which occurred 15 years ago has been linked to the practice of
using animal by-products in feeding. As a veterinarian, I know
that providing cattle with their God designed diet of grass and forage
results in the safest beef for families.
have received many questions in the last couple of weeks concerning the
Canadian report and about Mad Cow Disease in general. We have
put a summary of these questions and facts together to help our readers have a better
Is Mad Cow Disease?
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), known in vernacular as Mad
Cow Disease, is one of a group of transmissible spongiform
encephalopathies (TSE). These
transmissible, slowly progressive, degenerative, fatal diseases affect the
central nervous system of many animals including man and cause
neurological symptoms. These
diseases include BSE in cattle, Scrapie in sheep, Chronic Wasting Disease
(CWD) in elk and deer, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans among
What Causes Mad Cow Disease?
The causative agent for these diseases have not been proven
exactly, however, numerous theories exist.
The leading and most accepted theory is that the diseases are
caused by a prion (a protein particle).
Other theories involve a virus, Spiroplasma bacteria,
organophosphates, magnesium, aluminum, and the autoimmune system.
The greatest attention has been given to BSE when evidence in the
1990’s linked it to nvCJD (new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease).
CJD has been recognized with worldwide distribution for at least 80
years and usually has an onset in 60-70 year olds. New variant CJD
(nvCJD) was only recognized in the last decade and has been the
form linked to BSE. It has been seen in young people and even
not proven how, BSE may be spread to humans. Evidence indicates that nvCJD
has occurred after consuming BSE-contaminated cattle products.
Evidence has also indicated that the transmission of BSE to humans is only
possible with the consumption of brain, eyes, lymph nodes or spinal
The outbreak of BSE
in cattle, which occurred in Britain, is believed to have started from the
feeding of Scrapie-contaminated sheep meat and bone meal to cattle.
This outbreak was then made worse by the practice of feeding
rendered bovine meat and bone meal to young calves.
What is being done to prevent
mad cow disease from occurring in the United States?
In light of the BSE case reported in Canada this last week, US
agencies moved quickly to prevent any chances of BSE or nvCJD in this
country. To date there have been no reported cases of Mad Cow or nvCJD
in the United States.
imports of cattle or beef from Canada have been blocked pending further
investigation. This action is
in addition to the regulations, which were put in place in the mid 90’s.
These included blocking cattle and beef imports from all of Europe,
requiring that all cattle showing any neurological signs upon USDA
inspection be tested for BSE, prohibiting the use of most mammalian
protein in feed, recommending that animal tissues used in drug products
not come from a country with BSE, exclusion of blood from donors spending
more that 6 months in England and funding research.
What can I do to protect myself and my family from
mad cow disease?
The biology of TSE
disease is just starting to be understood.
In the absence of facts, it is easy for paranoia and fear to
overcome. What is the bottom
line on the safety of consuming beef in the United States today?
The following guidelines are aimed at what you can do to protect
yourself and your family from possible exposure to BSE prions in beef.
Only buy beef from a trusted source and know the country of
origin (supermarkets will be required to post this information in 2004). Investigate as to how the cattle are
raised, where they originate and how they are fed.
Make absolutely sure that cattle are not fed meat and bone meal
(any animal by-products).
Consider using grass fed beef rather than
industrial beef (most supermarket beef). Most industrial cattle have gone
through calf feeding, background feeding and feedlots where
possible use of animal-by-products could occur.
AmericanGrassFedBeef.com's cattle are 100% raised in open grass pastures
and we do NOT feed animal by-products.
Locate beef sources where the cattle are raised under one
operation and can be traced to birth.
In many cases, multiple ownership (where the animal has been sold
several times at the various stages of production) means the history of
the animal is not known and cannot be traced. As
AmericanGrassFedBeef.com's veterinarian, I personally keep records
for the care of each of our cows.
Acquire your beef from sources that do not use
organophosphates. In England,
circumstantial evidence has indicated that the heavy use of
organophosphates in hops fields where cattle then graze showed a cluster of
cases of nvCJD. Some
speculate that a link exists. At AmericanGrassFedBeef.com we never
Purchase beef from USDA inspected processing operations
where cattle are individually processed at a rate slow enough to allow the
inspector to observe the cow prior to and during processing. Where
care is taken to inspect that each carcass has had all spinal tissue
removed. A facility, which
employs skilled butchers to process and package the beef individually
reduces risk. Currently over
95% of the beef in the US is processed at the rate of 400 plus cows per
hour by unskilled labor. Further,
the practice is to combine beef products from many different cows.
At AmericanGrassFedBeef.com our cattle are processed individually and the
beef is never mixed.
Consume ground beef made from whole muscle tissue rather than
from beef trimmings, which are often combined from many animals.
Prions concentrate in the brain, spinal cord and central nervous
system tissue. The consumption of these tissues (even inadvertently),
if the cow proved to be infected with BSE, is the supposed link to nvCJD
in humans. BSE prions have
been found in the muscle tissue where steaks and roasts are derived.
At AmericanGrassFedBeef.com our ground beef is made from 100% muscle
tissue and is individually packaged.
When using industrial beef avoid sausage blends (often contain spinal tissues),
and steak cuts which include the spinal column such as T-bone steaks.
The meat of the T-bone is safe, but the notch at the top of the
T-bone could contain spinal tissue if improperly processed.
At AmericanGrassFedBeef.com, our sausage and steaks are from 100% muscle
tissue. Our gourmet steak cuts are free of bones.
Surgical instruments and blood transfusions
can transmit TSE.
Supplements often contain animal tissues
(brain, glands, and organ meat). Bovine
tissues are also used in many cosmetics. United
sources should be safe, but imported supplements may come from countries, which
recalls of beef from E.coli and mad cow disease occur, small grass farmers rest
peacefully knowing their beef is safe and NOT among the group at
risk. For families who want to purchase the safest beef, my
recommendation is to seek committed grass fed beef farmers using organic
farming methods and who properly process their cattle.
Patricia Whisnant, DVM
Grass Farmer and Veterinarian