Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #295 Update on Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Mad-Cow Disease

MP3 One Seg­ment
NB: This RealAu­dio stream con­tains FTRs 294 and 295 in sequence. Each is a 30-minute broad­cast.

1. Pre­sent­ing more infor­ma­tion about the out­breaks of foot-and-mouth and mad-cow dis­eases, this pro­gram begins with dis­cus­sion of con­tin­gency plans to han­dle foot-and-mouth should the dis­ease break out in the Unit­ed States. These plans entail the coor­di­nat­ed efforts of a num­ber of gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and could be viewed as a step that, in cer­tain respects, would move the coun­try clos­er to a form of lim­it­ed mar­tial law. “The first com­pre­hen­sive exer­cise about how the nation would con­tain foot-and-mouth dis­ease showed that an out­break could be stopped only with the com­bined strength of all fed­er­al dis­as­ter agen­cies, includ­ing the mil­i­tary, Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment offi­cials have said. After decades of rely­ing large­ly on state and local gov­ern­ments to help con­tain ani­mal dis­eases, the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture asked the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to devel­op a plan to com­bat this one as force­ful­ly as if it threat­ened human lives, said Clif­ford Oliv­er, the direc­tor of Agri­cul­ture Department’s office of cri­sis plan­ning. ‘We were com­ing to the real­iza­tion that state and local gov­ern­ment would be over­whelmed and the U.S.D.A. would be over­whelmed if foot-and-mouth broke out,’ Mr. Oliv­er said. With Britain, one of the most advanced agri­cul­tur­al nations, endur­ing an epi­dem­ic of foot-and-mouth dis­ease and British troops belat­ed­ly called in for mass buri­als of hun­dreds of thou­sands of slaugh­tered ani­mals, Amer­i­can farm­ers and ranch­ers began lob­by­ing their state agri­cul­ture chiefs for bet­ter plan­ning. Those offi­cials recent­ly urged Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Ann M. Ven­e­man to find out what the rest of the gov­ern­ment could do to con­tain an out­break. The fed­er­al Cat­a­stroph­ic Dis­as­ter Response Group, which nor­mal­ly wor­ries about bio-ter­ror­ism or indus­tri­al dis­as­ters, orga­nized the table-top exer­cise for the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment on Wednes­day, bring­ing togeth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 26 agen­cies, includ­ing the Depart­ments of Defense, Com­merce, Inte­ri­or, Ener­gy and Health and Human Ser­vices, Mr. Oliv­er said. The exer­cise con­firmed fears that with­out the entire gov­ern­ment work­ing to con­tain it, the dis­ease would spread like wild­fire if it ever reached this coun­try.” (“Cat­tle Dis­ease Pos­es Threat to Run Wild, U.S. Finds” by Eliz­a­beth Beck­er; New York Times; 4/17/2001; p. A15.)

2. Inter­est­ing­ly (and per­haps sig­nif­i­cant­ly), an inter­na­tion­al com­mis­sion study­ing inter­na­tion­al reg­u­la­tion of bio­log­i­cal war­fare devel­op­ment not­ed that strength­en­ing an exist­ing treaty would facil­i­tate world-wide mon­i­tor­ing of foot-and-mouth dis­ease. “Slow-mov­ing talks on an effec­tive anti-cheat­ing regime for an inter­na­tion­al treaty ban­ning germ weapons were giv­en a fresh push yes­ter­day when the chair­man pre­sent­ed his own com­pro­mise draft as a basis for nego­ti­a­tion. Speak­ing on the first day of a three-week nego­ti­at­ing ses­sion, Tibor Toth of Hun­gary said he was opti­mistic that a ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­to­col for the 1972 bio­log­i­cal weapons treaty could be con­clud­ed by Novem­ber when states that are par­ty to the treaty hold their fifth review con­fer­ence in Gene­va. How­ev­er the six-year old nego­ti­a­tions remain stalled on key aspects of the polic­ing regime, notably con­cern­ing the scope and intru­sive­ness of on-site inspec­tions and issues relat­ing to export con­trols and tech­nol­o­gy trans­fer . . . . He [Toth] appealed to the 50 or so coun­tries tak­ing part in the talks to make con­ces­sions to con­clude a pro­to­col this year. He said a ver­i­fi­ca­tion regime would help to head off attempts by rogue states to pro­duce or acquire bio­log­i­cal weapons capa­ble of mass destruc­tion of human, ani­mal and plant life. More­over, by strength­en­ing inter­na­tion­al co-oper­a­tion on dis­ease sur­veil­lance it would also con­tribute to reduc­ing deaths and ill­ness from infec­tious dis­eases, whether nat­ur­al or man-made. Foot-and-mouth dis­ease is among those poten­tial­ly cov­ered by the pro­to­col, Mr. Toth not­ed.” (“Draft Gives Fresh Push to Germ War­fare Pact” by Frances Williams; Finan­cial Times; 4/24/2001; p. 4.)

3. A recent op-ed col­umn raised the very ques­tion at the heart of the dis­cus­sion set forth in FTR-287, name­ly, IS the out­break of foot-and-mouth the result of bio­log­i­cal war­fare? The writer also raised anoth­er aspect of the line of inquiry pre­sent­ed in that program—the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Iraq may have been involved in the delib­er­ate spread of the dis­ease. “Could the Unit­ed States be at war and not know it? The cur­rent out­break of foot-and-mouth dis­ease in the Unit­ed King­dom makes one won­der. Not about Britain’s plight specif­i­cal­ly; there’s noth­ing to sug­gest that the epi­dem­ic there is an act of war. But con­sid­er how quick­ly and eas­i­ly it has spread. Then con­sid­er a regime such as Iraq’s, which has demon­strat­ed a com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing bio­log­i­cal weapons. Might such a nation find it advan­ta­geous to strike anony­mous­ly and bio­log­i­cal­ly by spread­ing an eco­nom­i­cal­ly dev­as­tat­ing dis­ease or a slow-act­ing tox­in? This is not an abstract ques­tion. The Iraqi regime insists that the eco­nom­ic sanc­tions imposed on it are noth­ing less than a geno­ci­dal attack by the Unit­ed States and the Unit­ed King­dom. The regime has said it is still fight­ing the Per­sian Gulf War, and that it will respond to the plight of the Pales­tini­ans . . . . Among the agents known to have been loaded into war­heads are afla­tox­in, a fun­gal tox­in that can cause liv­er can­cer, and wheat-cov­er smut, which destroys grain crops . . . . And if a slow-devel­op­ing dis­ease can’t be linked to the event that trig­gered it, how can a coun­try pre­vent such attacks? How can it respond? Sci­ence might be able to address part of this prob­lem. Sub­tle dif­fer­ences in vari­eties of bio­log­i­cal agents can be ana­lyzed and traced to cer­tain regions. Oth­er effects might have sig­na­tures that can be observed in vic­tims.” (“If an Ene­my Attacks, Will We Know It?” by Charles Duelfer; San Jose Mer­cury News; 4/24/2001; p. 7B.)

4. As not­ed in FTR-287, a recent U.N. study about the renascent Iraqi devel­op­ment pro­grams for weapons of mass destruc­tion warned of that country’s devel­op­ment of foot-and-mouth virus. (“Mis­siles, Virus­es Still Trou­ble Experts” by the inter­na­tion­al staff. Finan­cial Times; 3/2/2001; p. 5.)

5. “Iraq’s research into viruses—including polio, influen­za, foot-and-mouth dis­ease, the camelpox virus, infec­tious hem­or­rhag­ic con­ju­unc­tivi­tis virus and rotavirus—was also wor­ry­ing.” (Idem.)

6. Inter­est­ing­ly, and per­haps sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the U.S. and Britain launched air strikes against Iraq short­ly after George W. Bush became pres­i­dent. The pos­si­bil­i­ty that the foot-and-mouth out­break might stem from Iraqi bio­log­i­cal war­fare retal­i­a­tion for Britain’s role in the strikes is not one that should be too read­i­ly cast aside. It is also inter­est­ing to note that, as the Charles Duelfer col­umn excerpt­ed not­ed above points out, genet­ic sig­na­tures of a giv­en con­ta­gion-caus­ing organ­ism might yield clues as to the pos­si­ble ori­gin of the dis­ease. “The strain of foot-and-mouth virus plagu­ing Britain’s farms was first detect­ed in India more than a decade ago. Sci­en­tists have been track­ing it across the world since then, but are no clos­er to deter­min­ing how it got to Eng­land. . . . Experts have iden­ti­fied the virus caus­ing the cur­rent out­break in Europe as belong­ing to the Pan-Asia type zero strain. The sub­type rav­aging Britain is nor­mal­ly found in the Mid­dle East and South Asia.” (“Foot-and-Mouth Trots Around Globe” by Emma Ross; San Jose Mer­cury News; 3/30/2001; p. 5A.) [Mr. Emory notes, in ret­ro­spect, that this out­break is also inter­est­ing in light of Pak­istani sup­port for the Tal­iban and the long-stand­ing con­flict between that coun­try and India.]

7. In the con­text of Saddam’s hos­til­i­ty to Britain, sev­er­al addi­tion­al facts should be tak­en into account. One is that Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein was raised by, and heav­i­ly influ­enced by his pro-Nazi, anti-British uncle. “At ten, he found a men­tor in his mater­nal uncle, Khairal­lah al-Tul­fah, a recent­ly cashiered army offi­cer whose hatred of British colo­nial rule was matched only by his admi­ra­tion for Adolf Hitler and his Nazi ideals. . . . He learned to read by the light of an oil lamp and fed his spir­it on his uncle’s tales of exploits with pro-Ger­man offi­cers in the Iraqi army. Khairal­lah al-Tul­fah had a dream that Arabs would one day be free of for­eign occu­pa­tion and for­eign rule. The Ger­mans, Khairal­lah said, were the only ones who respect­ed the Arabs as equals. The British were just after their oil.” (The Death Lob­by: How the West Armed Iraq; by Ken­neth Tim­mer­man; copy­right 1991 [HC]; by Houghton Mif­flin Com­pa­ny; ISBN 0–395-59305–0; p.1.)

8. Khairal­lah was also deeply involved with the devel­op­ment of the Iraqi bio­log­i­cal weapons pro­gram, which was known as the “Gen­er­al Direc­torate of Vet­eri­nary Ser­vices!” “Sad­dam Hus­sein was attract­ed ear­ly on to bac­te­ri­o­log­i­cal weapons. They were cheap, rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple to man­u­fac­ture, and poten­tial­ly dead­ly. . . . On Novem­ber 2, 1974, [Izzat] al-Douri signed a con­tract with the Paris-based Insti­tut Merieux, to set up Iraq’s first bac­te­ri­o­log­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ry. The Iraqis explained that they need­ed to be able to man­u­fac­ture large quan­ti­tites of vac­cines in order to devel­op agri­cul­tur­al and ani­mal pro­duc­tion. The offi­cial Iraqi pur­chas­ing agency was called the Gen­er­al Direc­torate of Vet­eri­nary Ser­vices.” (Ibid.; p. 20.)

9. “Al Douri’s suc­cess won him a pro­mo­tion and made him a de fac­to mem­ber of the team, the three-man Strate­gic Plan­ning Com­mit­tee, along with Sad­dam, Khairal­lah, and Adnan Ham­dani.” (Ibid.; pp. 20–21.)

10. One inter­est­ing detail con­cern­ing the out­break of foot-and-mouth dis­ease in Britain con­cerns reports of human infec­tions with the dis­ease. “Gov­ern­ment hopes of per­suad­ing tourists back to the coun­try­side suf­fered a seri­ous set­back yes­ter­day when a slaugh­ter­man in north-west Eng­land was sus­pect­ed of catch­ing foot-and-mouth dis­ease. The Depart­ment of Health said a man involved in the mass cull in Cum­bria was suf­fer­ing blis­ter­ing which indi­cat­ed he had become infect­ed with the dis­ease, although final results from med­ical tests would not be avail­able for a day or two. The news came as the gov­ern­ment faced grow­ing con­cern about the health risks of burn­ing car­cass­es on mass funer­al pyres and seemed cer­tain to under­mine last week’s claim that the epi­dem­ic was now ‘ful­ly under con­trol.’ The gov­ern­ment has always main­tained the risk to humans from foot-and-mouth is min­i­mal and, with many tourist busi­ness­es on the brink of col­lapse, has urged peo­ple to return to rur­al areas . . . . Peter Ainsworth, cul­ture spokesman for the oppo­si­tion con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty, said that if the case was con­firmed it would be a ‘mas­sive set­back to the recov­ery of British tourism’ as some Amer­i­cans and oth­er vis­i­tors who mis­tak­en­ly believe foot-and-mouth is a seri­ous risk to human health would decide to stay away. ‘It’s a fur­ther mas­sive dent to the image of British tourism at a time when we can ill afford it.’ Mr. Ainsworth said . . . . ‘This is incred­i­bly rare.’ Said a Depart­ment of Health spokesman.’ ‘The symp­toms are rel­a­tive­ly mild and it should respond well to treat­ment and clear up quick­ly.’” (“Sus­pectd Human Foot-and-Mouth Case Hits Gov­ern­ment Cam­paign” by Michael Mann and Cathy New­man; Finan­cial Times; 4/24/2001; p. 9.)

11. More sus­pect­ed human infec­tions were report­ed by the Finan­cial Times the fol­low­ing day. “Two more sus­pect­ed cas­es of foot-and-mouth dis­ease being trans­mit­ted to humans were being inves­ti­gat­ed by the Depart­ment of Health yes­ter­day as the government’s han­dling of the cri­sis was strong­ly crit­i­cized by lead­ing inde­pen­dent sci­en­tists. Results from the first sus­pect­ed case, involv­ing a slaugh­ter­man in Cum­bria, North-West Eng­land, are due short­ly. Offi­cials said the cir­cum­stances in which he may have caught the infec­tion were high­ly unusu­al and proved there was no cause for con­cern. The man was mov­ing a decom­pos­ing car­cass when it explod­ed.” (“Live­stock Dis­ease Sus­pect­ed in More Humans” by John Mason Cathy New­man and Michael Mann; Finan­cial Times; 4/25/2001; p. 9.) One of the pos­si­bil­i­ties to be inves­ti­gat­ed is that the strain of foot-and-mouth may have been genet­i­cal­ly altered to affect humans.

12. The remain­der of the broad­cast deals with mad-cow dis­ease and its human vari­ant Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease. Mad cow dis­ease is believed to result from ner­vous sys­tem tis­sue from scrapie-infect­ed sheep being fed to cows. Scrapie, in turn has also been stud­ied by ele­ments asso­ci­at­ed with the cre­ation of bio­log­i­cal weapons, includ­ing the Nation­al Can­cer Insti­tute.

13. “Alter­na­tive­ly, ‘slow’ virus­es were of the great­est inter­est to WHO, CDC, NIH, and NCI sci­en­tists between 1968 and 1974. The rea­sons for this were not as obvi­ous. The WHO Chron­i­cle report­ed: ‘Recent inter­est in the slow virus­es, in par­tic­u­lar those caus­ing chron­ic degen­er­a­tive dis­ease of the ner­vous system—the CHINA (chron­ic infec­tious neu­ro­path­ic agents) viruses—has come from painstak­ing work with vis­na and scrapie, degen­er­a­tive dis­eases of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem of sheep. . . . CHINA virus­es are dis­tin­guished by the lan­guish­ing char­ac­ter of the infec­tion process they ini­ti­ate. The incu­ba­tion peri­od in the host may be months or years, and the dis­ease itself may progress lag­gard­ly towards an irre­versible dete­ri­o­ra­tion of the vic­tim. . . . The resis­tance of the scrapie agent to heat, ether, for­ma­lin, and oth­er enzy­mat­ic and chem­i­cal agents, as well as its very small par­ti­cle size, pos­es the ques­tion whether it is a con­ven­tion­al virus, an incom­plete virus, or some oth­er agent. . . . the find­ings of dif­fer­ent [research] groups are at vari­ance and in sev­er­al instances are total­ly inex­plic­a­ble with­in our present con­cept of infec­tious agents.’” (Emerg­ing Virus­es: AIDS and Ebola—Nature, Acci­dent or Inten­tion­al?; by Dr. Leonard G. Horowitz; Copy­right 1996 [HC] by Tetra­he­dron Inc.; ISBN 0–923550-12–7; pp. 16–17.)

14. In deter­min­ing whether mad cow could be the result of bio­log­i­cal war­fare, it is inter­est­ing to note that genet­ic dif­fer­ences may account for the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the dis­ease in Britain. This sug­gests at least the pos­si­bil­i­ty of genet­ic engi­neer­ing in con­nec­tion with the dis­ease. “Sci­en­tists have con­firmed that cas­es of the human form of mad cow dis­ease in the North are run­ning at dou­ble the rate in the South. . . . The researchers found it was twice as com­mon in the North of Eng­land and Scot­land, but were at a loss to explain the dif­fer­ence after find­ing no clear link with region­al dif­fer­ences in eat­ing habits. . . .’We also need to keep an open mind about oth­er fac­tors unre­lat­ed to diet. . . . these could include the genet­ic back­ground of vic­tims. All those who devel­oped the dis­ease had a spe­cif­ic genet­ic make-up and it could be that peo­ple in the North are more genet­i­cal­ly sus­cep­ti­ble than in oth­er places.’” (“Puz­zled Sci­en­tists Try to Explain Region­al Vari­a­tion in Fig­ures” by Mike Wait­es; York­shire Post; 3/30/2001.)

15. The broad­cast con­cludes with exam­i­na­tion of a hypo­thet­i­cal expla­na­tion for the out­break of mad-cow dis­ease. Inves­ti­ga­tors in New Zealand blame the out­break in Britain on an African ante­lope import­ed into a game park in the mid-1970’s. “An African ante­lope import­ed for a British game park may have trig­gered the ‘mad-cow’ dis­ease that has dev­as­tat­ed beef herds in Britain, New Zealand researchers believe. Sci­en­tists from Massey Uni­ver­si­ty led by epi­demi­ol­o­gist Roger Mor­ris, are prepar­ing to pub­lish sci­en­tif­ic work under­pin­ning the the­o­ry, Pro­fes­sor Mor­ris said. The team inves­ti­gat­ed 35 the­o­ries of the cause of the epi­dem­ic. If true, the ante­lope the­o­ry would sup­plant a wide­ly held belief that bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy, or BSE, orig­i­nat­ed in sheep infect­ed with a sim­i­lar dis­ease, scrapie, which were ground up for ani­mal feed. Sci­en­tif­ic papers to be pub­lished lat­er this year by Mr. Mor­ris and the team will can­vass the like­li­hood that a form of BSE occurs in wild ante­lope, and spread into British cat­tle when an infect­ed ani­mal from a wildlife park was ren­dered into meat and bone meal.” (“’Mad-Cow’ Dis­ease Linked to Ante­lope Researchers Say” [AP]; Wall Street Jour­nal; 4/23/2001; p. B4A.) Mr. Emory notes that AIDS has come to be blamed (false­ly) on infes­ta­tion from Africa. In light of the research into scrapie con­duct­ed by insti­tu­tions con­nect­ed to bio­log­i­cal war­fare devel­op­ment, one won­ders if a sim­i­lar scape­goat­ing of the “dark con­ti­nent” for the gen­e­sis of mad-cow might be under way.


9 comments for “FTR #295 Update on Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Mad-Cow Disease”

  1. The dis­cov­ery of the first case in mad cow in the US since 2006 is prompt­ing the expect­ed round of assur­ances to beef/dairy con­sumers that this was an anom­alous event and there’s real­ly noth­ing to be wor­ried about. After all, this is the first case found in 6 years. What isn’t men­tioned quite as often is that the cow was exhibit­ing no symp­toms and was found through a ran­dom screen­ing. But then, the FDA and indus­try argues, the fact that it was found through a ran­dom screen is a sign of the effec­tive­ness of safe­ty pro­ce­dures. After all, there has­n’t been a case since 2006. What’s men­tioned even less is that only 40,000 cows are ran­dom­ly screened for mad cow each year. This is in a coun­try with ~35 mil­lion cat­tle slaugh­tered annu­al­ly. So what we’ve learned is that ~0.1% of the cat­tle are screen for a dead­ly, but pre­sum­ably very rare, dis­ease that both the cat­tle and humans can har­bor asymp­to­mati­cal­ly for decades. And when symp­toms do arise, they might be mis­tak­en for Alzheimers. The arti­cle below also indi­cates that experst don’t know what the actu­al preva­lence of spon­ta­neous mad­cow dis­ease is in cat­tle, shich would be a use­ful bit of info for deter­min­ing an ade­quate screen­ing regime.So let’s hope a 0.1% screen­ing rate is enough and that’s why this was the first case seen since 2006 because the oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties are rather, ummm, unap­pe­tiz­ing:

    Dis­cov­ery of mad cow at US ren­der­ing plant was due to luck and ran­dom USDA test­ing
    Dis­cov­ery of mad cow in US was stroke of luck

    By TRACIE CONE and GOSIA WOZNIACKA | Asso­ci­at­ed Press | Apr 25, 2012 4:20 AM CDT
    A non­de­script build­ing in the heart of Cal­i­for­ni­a’s dairy coun­try has become the focus of intense scruti­ny after mad cow dis­ease was dis­cov­ered in a dead dairy cow.

    The find­ing, announced Tues­day, is the first new case of the dis­ease in the U.S. since 2006 _ and the fact that the dis­cov­ery was made at all was a stroke of luck. Tests are per­formed on only a small por­tion of dead ani­mals brought to the trans­fer facil­i­ty near Han­ford in cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia.

    The cow had died at one of the region’s hun­dreds of dairies, but had­n’t exhib­it­ed out­ward symp­toms of the dis­ease: unsteadi­ness, inco­or­di­na­tion, a dras­tic change in behav­ior or low milk pro­duc­tion, offi­cials said. But when the ani­mal arrived at the facil­i­ty with a truck­load of oth­er dead cows on April 18, its 30-month-plus age and fresh corpse made her eli­gi­ble for USDA test­ing.

    “We ran­dom­ly pick a num­ber of sam­ples through­out the year, and this just hap­pened to be one that we ran­dom­ly sam­pled,” Bak­er Com­modi­ties exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Den­nis Luck­ey said. “It showed no signs” of dis­ease.

    The sam­ples went to the food safe­ty lab at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis on April 18. By April 19, mark­ers indi­cat­ed the cow could have bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy (BSE), a dis­ease that is fatal to cows and can cause a dead­ly human brain dis­ease in peo­ple who eat taint­ed meat. It was sent to the USDA lab in Iowa for fur­ther test­ing.


    In humans, experts say the dis­ease can occur in one in 1 mil­lion peo­ple, caus­ing sponge-like holes in the brain. But they say not enough is known about how and how often the dis­ease strikes cat­tle.


    Among the unknowns about the cur­rent case is whether the ani­mal died of the dis­ease and whether oth­er cat­tle in its herd are sim­i­lar­ly infect­ed. The name of the dairy where the cow died has­n’t been released, and offi­cials haven’t said where the cow was born.

    “It’s appro­pri­ate to be cau­tious, it’s appro­pri­ate to pay atten­tion and it’s appro­pri­ate to ask ques­tions, but now let’s watch and see what the researchers find out in the next cou­ple of days,” said James Culler, direc­tor of the UC Davis dairy food safe­ty lab­o­ra­to­ry and an author­i­ty on BSE.

    Culler said that in this case the food safe­ty test­ing pro­gram worked and that this form of BSE so rarely occurs that con­sumers should­n’t be alarmed.

    “Are you wor­ried about all of the mete­ors that passed the earth last night while you were sleep­ing? Of course not,” Culler said. “Would you pay 90 per­cent of your salaries to set up all of the obser­va­to­ries on earth to watch for them? Of course not. It’s the same thing.”

    The Nation­al Cat­tle­men’s Beef Asso­ci­a­tion said in a state­ment that “U.S. reg­u­la­to­ry con­trols are effec­tive, and that U.S fresh beef and beef prod­ucts from cat­tle of all ages are safe and can be safe­ly trad­ed due to our inter­lock­ing safe­guards.”

    The infect­ed cow was iden­ti­fied through an Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment sur­veil­lance pro­gram that tests about 40,000 cows a year for the fatal brain dis­ease.

    There have been three con­firmed cas­es of BSE in cows in the Unit­ed States _ in a Cana­di­an-born cow in 2003 in Wash­ing­ton state, in 2005 in Texas and in 2006 in Alaba­ma.

    Both the 2005 and 2006 cas­es were also atyp­i­cal vari­eties of the dis­ease, USDA offi­cials said.

    The mad cow cas­es that plagued Eng­land in the ear­ly 1990s were caused when live­stock rou­tine­ly were fed pro­tein sup­ple­ments that includ­ed ground cow spinal columns and brain tis­sue, which can har­bor the dis­ease.


    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 26, 2012, 2:52 pm
  2. The USDA has an update on the recent case of mad cow in Cal­i­for­nia. Now it sounds like the cow was lame and unable to walk, con­tra­dict­ing ear­li­er reports that the cow was asymp­to­matic. It also sounds like to cow was a 10 year old dairy cow. Or maybe 5 years old. There’s appar­ent­ly still some con­fu­sion:

    USDA: U.S. mad cow was lame, lying down at dairy
    April 27, 2012

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The mad cow that was recent­ly dis­cov­ered through rou­tine test­ing in Cal­i­for­nia had been euth­a­nized after it became lame and start­ed lying down at a dairy, fed­er­al offi­cials revealed Thurs­day.

    The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture also said the cow was 10 years and sev­en months old in its update on the fourth case of mad cow dis­ease ever dis­cov­ered in the U.S.

    A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes of Cal­i­for­nia had said Wednes­day that the sick cow was 5 years old. It came from a dairy farm in Tulare Coun­ty, Amer­i­ca’s No. 1 dairy-pro­duc­ing coun­ty.

    The USDA did­n’t elab­o­rate on the cow’s symp­toms oth­er than to say it was “humane­ly euth­a­nized after it devel­oped lame­ness and became recum­bent.”

    Rou­tine test­ing at a trans­fer facil­i­ty showed the dead Hol­stein, which was des­tined for a ren­der­ing plant, had mad cow dis­ease, or bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy. The results were announced Tues­day.

    Ani­mals at high risk for the dis­ease include those with symp­toms of neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease, “down­er” ani­mals at slaugh­ter­hous­es, ani­mals that die at dairies or cat­tle ranch­es for unknown rea­sons, and cows more than 2 1/2 years old, because BSE occurs in old­er cows.

    U.S. health offi­cials say there is no risk to the food sup­ply. The Cal­i­for­nia cow was nev­er des­tined for the meat mar­ket, and it devel­oped “atyp­i­cal” BSE from a ran­dom muta­tion, some­thing that sci­en­tists know hap­pens occa­sion­al­ly. Some­how, a pro­tein the body nor­mal­ly har­bors folds into an abnor­mal shape called a pri­on, set­ting off a chain reac­tion of mis­folds that even­tu­al­ly kills brain cells.


    So cows old­er then 2 1/2 years are con­sid­ered at risk for devel­op­ing mad cow, and the mad cow in ques­tion is either 5 or 10 years old. That’s a lit­tle unset­tling since it rais­es the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the cow had been infect­ed for num­ber of years before the symp­toms start­ed show­ing up. Well, at least we’re being assured that there was no human health risk since it was a dairy cow that’s not meant to enter the meat sup­ply. It sure is a good thing that mad cow can’t be spread in milk:

    Pri­on Dis­ease Spreads in Sheep Via Moth­er’s Milk

    Sci­enceDai­ly (Jan. 19, 2011) — Trans­mis­sion of pri­on brain dis­eases such as bovine spongi­form ene­cephalopa­thy (BSE) — also known as mad cow dis­ease — and human vari­ant Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease (vCJD) is gen­er­al­ly attrib­uted to the con­sump­tion of the brain or organ meat of infect­ed ani­mals but new research demon­strates lambs exposed to milk from pri­on-infect­ed sheep with inflamed mam­ma­ry glands can devel­op pri­on dis­ease as well. The research, which is pub­lished in the Jan­u­ary 2011 issue of the Jour­nal of Virol­o­gy, has major impli­ca­tions for human and live­stock health.


    Recent research had sug­gest­ed that human-to-human trans­mis­sion of pri­ons has occurred via blood trans­fu­sions, “under­scor­ing the impor­tance of under­stand­ing pos­si­ble trans­mis­sion routes,” the researchers write. The mis­fold­ed pri­ons that cause vCJD in humans, and BSE in cat­tle — which can be trans­mit­ted to humans — com­mon­ly accu­mu­late in lym­phoid tis­sues before invad­ing the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, where they wreak their dead­ly effects. Inflam­ma­tion can cause lym­phoid fol­li­cles to form in oth­er organs, such as liv­er and kid­ney, which leads pri­ons to invade organs that nor­mal­ly do not har­bor infec­tion. In recent research, this team, led by Ciri­a­co Ligios of the Isti­tu­to Zoopro­fi­lat­ti­co Sper­i­men­tale in Sar­dinia, Italy and Adri­ano Agguzi at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Zurich, Switzer­land, report­ed sheep with mis­fold­ed pri­ons in inflamed mam­ma­ry glands, also known as mas­ti­tis, rais­ing con­cerns that pri­ons could be secret­ed into milk.

    In the new research, the team infect­ed sheep with a com­mon retro­virus that caus­es mas­ti­tis, and mis­fold­ed pri­ons. They bred the sheep, in order to stim­u­late the females to pro­duce milk, which they then col­lect­ed and fed to lambs that had nev­er been exposed to pri­ons. The lambs devel­oped pri­on dis­ease after only two years, a speed which sur­prised the researchers, and “sug­gest­ed that there was a high lev­el of pri­on infec­tiv­i­ty in milk,” says Sig­urd­son.

    The research rais­es sev­er­al dis­turb­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties.

    A com­mon virus in a sheep with pri­on dis­ease can lead to pri­on con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of the milk pool and may lead to pri­on infec­tion of oth­er ani­mals.
    The same virus in a pri­on-infect­ed sheep could effi­cient­ly prop­a­gate pri­on infec­tion with­in a flock, through trans­mis­sion of pri­ons to the lambs, via milk. This might be par­tic­u­lar­ly like­ly on fac­to­ry farms, where mas­ti­tis may be com­mon, and could occur in goats as well as sheep.
    Humans with vari­ant Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease (vCJD) might accu­mu­late pri­ons in inflamed organs, and could also secrete pri­ons.

    How­ev­er, “This work can­not be direct­ly extrap­o­lat­ed to cat­tle,” says Sig­urd­son. She says that BSE pri­ons do not accu­mu­late to detectible lev­els in lym­phoid organs, and thus would not be expect­ed to accu­mu­late with inflam­ma­tion. “Nonethe­less,” she says, “it would be worth test­ing milk from cat­tle with mas­ti­tis for pri­ons as there may be oth­er cel­lu­lar sources for pri­ons entry into milk.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 26, 2012, 10:46 pm
  3. @Pterrafractyl: Unfor­tu­nate stuff.

    Sad thing is, we could have cured these dis­eases already if the med­ical estab­lish­ment was­n’t so full of incom­pe­tent bums and mon­ey-grub­bing crooks.

    Posted by Steve L. | April 27, 2012, 3:30 am
  4. @Steven L.: “Scary” bare­ly begins to describe the poten­tion­al for the kinds of pri­on-relat­ed calami­ties the US is flirt­ing with in order to save a few cents on the cost of beef. It could be like Zom­bieland in slow motion. The pos­si­bil­i­ty of infec­tious pri­ons spread­ing in via dairy prod­ucts is par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­turb­ing since a cow could be spread­ing that stuff asymp­to­mati­cal­ly for years. I can’t fault the entire med­ical estab­lish­ment for our mad cow poli­cies, espe­cial­ly when it comes to reg­u­la­to­ry poli­cies. There are sure­ly some bad actors in the research com­mu­ni­ty but the doc­tors and sci­en­tists aren’t real­ly the ones with the final say on these kinds mat­ters. The nature of the risk is one of low-prob­a­bil­i­ties and low-prece­dent. Low probal­i­ty, low prece­dent prob­lems are, by their very nature, real­ly tough calls espe­cial­ly when there are poten­tial­ly dis­as­ter­ous con­se­quences. And that’s before all the amoral out­side inter­ests get involved. A sober sci­en­tif­ic appraisal of the risks at hand just won’t hap­pen when it’s indus­try-approved polit­i­cal appointees mak­ing the final call using indus­try-derived vol­un­tar­i­ly sub­mit­ted data. And this is not to say that there’s com­pelling evi­dence of some sort of exist­ing mad cow epe­dem­ic. The prob­lem is that what lit­tle data the pub­lic has about the mad cow screen­ing pol­i­cy sug­gests that the screen­ing regime itself can’t gath­er the data required to catch an emerg­ing pri­on prob­lem in the food sup­ply if that low prob­a­bil­i­ty event should takes place. It’s like the pre­vi­ous test­ing into the risk of mad cow con­clud­ed “there isn’t much of it, so we don’t have to wor­ry about it”. That’s like sam­pling peo­ple for the flu in the mid­dle of July and assum­ing it will be like that all year around. Infec­tious agents don’t behave like this. If a pri­on dis­ease spon­ta­neous­ly pops up in one in a mil­lion humans and at a sim­i­lar rate in cat­tle (that’s what the data sug­gests), how in the hell can we know if test­ing 40,000 cat­tle of in the 30–40 mil­lion raised each year is real­ly capa­ble of catch­ing an out­break in time. Espe­cial­ly when you’re tar­get­ing only lame/older cat­tle and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly can’t catch an out­break that isn’t in old or lame cat­tle. For an infec­tious dis­ease that can be asymp­to­matic for years that’s a seri­ous prob­lem. Espe­cial­ly when we don’t real­ly under­stand all the dif­fer­ent ways it spreads.

    And increas­ing­ly tech­nol­o­gy is going to shift these kinds of low prob­a­bil­i­ty risks in high­ly unpre­dictable ways. Events like BP’s Gulf spill and the Fukushi­ma melt­down were both low prob­a­bil­i­ty events and the lack of prepa­ra­tion in both cas­es was jus­ti­fied, in part, by the extreme­ly low prob­a­bil­i­ties assigned to the sequence of events that led to the cat­a­stro­phes. They both hap­pened and changed the world irre­versibly. Those prob­a­bil­i­ties of a depp ocean well blow out or mul­ti­ple full nuclear melt­downs were prob­a­bly rigged opti­misti­cal­ly set by their indus­tries as improb­a­bly low. I’d be pret­ty shocked if the same was­n’t true for the beef and dairy indus­try. As more and more tech­nol­o­gy gets imple­ment­ed in ways that “might” lead to cat­a­stro­phe, it looks like more and more irre­versible cat­a­stro­phes are going to take place because human­i­ty just can­not seem to resist engag­ing in stu­pid opti­mism when­ev­er it’s prof­itable. Plus, these are real­ly hard sce­nar­ios to preduct accu­rate­ly. It’s anoth­er sys­temic meta-prob­lem we have yet to address. In an age of cloned, genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied cows what if the cow clones of the future have an unde­tect­ed high­er sus­pectibil­i­ty to spon­ta­neous pri­on dis­ease? Do we have enough info to know if that’s hap­pen­ing? Can the cur­rent test­ing regime pick up the kind of dub­tle shifts in genet­ic pre­dis­po­si­tion of an upcom­ing gen­er­a­tion of cat­tle when the test­ing rate is at 0.1% and tar­get­ted at old and lame cat­tle. Who knows because it looks like the one screen­ing in 2004 of 759,000 cat­tle to estab­lish a base­line “preva­lence” of the dis­ease spo­na­neous­ly appear­ing is the one and only esti­mate the USDA will allow to hap­pen. Because after that, they dras­ti­cal­ly cut back on test­ing with only more cuts to fol­low. The US basi­cal­ly took one big sam­ple in 2004 and that’s it. So if that 2004 sam­pling led to a sig­nif­i­cant under­sti­ma­tion of the nat­ur­al preva­lence of mad cow OR the under­ly­ing con­di­tions change in the future (e.g. dif­fer­ent strains of mad cow emerg­ing, busi­ness prac­tices gone awry, bioter­ror, etc) a MAJOR assump­tion in what con­sti­tutes a “safe” test­ing regime might be skewed in ways that set the screen­ing sys­tem up to fail. Bad stats real­ly can kill.

    Like with Fukushi­ma and the BP spill we’re square­ly in low probability/high impact ter­ri­to­ry with mad cow and that does­n’t bode well giv­en human­i­ty’s track record. For instance, check out this arti­cle from 2007. It’s about some researchers that devel­oped a mad cow-free cow by remov­ing a gene involved with the pro­duc­tion of pri­ons. Appar­ent­ly cows don’t need them to live (pri­ons are nat­u­ral­ly pro­duced by the body but appar­ent­ly not nec­es­sary to live). It’s an inter­est­ing arti­cle that shows the poten­tial for devel­op­ing a cure for pri­on dis­eases, but it also rais­es a cou­ple of ques­tions. First, there’s an esti­mate in the arti­cle that if all 42 mil­lion cat­tle in the US were test­ed for mad cow, maybe 4–7 cas­es would be found at most. That was what the experts were say­ing. So 0.00001% of the cows in the US were assumed to be infect­ed as of 2007. I’d like to see the mar­gin of error on that stat. Con­sid­er­ing that three cas­es of mad cow had been detect­ed in the US (start­ing in 2003) from what sounds like maybe a cou­ple mil­lion test­ed at most (at a rate of 0.1% after the ini­tial 1% screen), it sort of begs the ques­tion of just how reli­able that esti­mate is that there were only 4–7 infect­ed cows in the entire US at most? Is that sup­posed to be a con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mate? What would a rea­son­ably opti­mistic esti­mate have been, one infect­ed cow in the whole US at the most? Was there a super thor­ough test­ing regime that took place to get a decent base­line esti­mate and how use­ful is that esti­mate as a future pre­dic­tor? (the arti­cles below indi­cate “no”) Are we real­ly risk­ing load­ing up the pop­u­la­tion with low but still unac­cept­able lev­els of pri­ons year after year based on these kinds of assump­tions? Yes:

    Sci­en­tists Announce Mad Cow Break­through

    By Rick Weiss
    Wash­ing­ton Post Staff Writer
    Mon­day, Jan­u­ary 1, 2007

    Sci­en­tists said yes­ter­day that they have used genet­ic engi­neer­ing tech­niques to pro­duce the first cat­tle that may be bio­log­i­cal­ly inca­pable of get­ting mad cow dis­ease.

    The ani­mals, which lack a gene that is cru­cial to the dis­ease’s pro­gres­sion, were not designed for use as food. They were cre­at­ed so that human phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals can be made in their blood with­out the dan­ger that those prod­ucts might get con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with the infec­tious agent that caus­es mad cow.

    That agent, a pro­tein known as a pri­on (pro­nounced PREE-on), can cause a fatal human ail­ment, vari­ant Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease, if it gets into the body.

    More gen­er­al­ly, sci­en­tists said, the ani­mals will facil­i­tate stud­ies of pri­ons, which are among the strangest of all known infec­tious agents because they do not con­tain any genet­ic mate­r­i­al. Pri­ons also cause scrapie in sheep and fatal wast­ing dis­eases in elk and minks.

    In the future, experts said, sim­i­lar tech­niques might be used to engi­neer ani­mals with more nutri­tious meats — though the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion has said it will require engi­neered food ani­mals to pass tests far more strin­gent than those it recent­ly deemed ade­quate for clones.

    “This is a sem­i­nal research paper,” said Bar­bara Glenn, direc­tor for ani­mal biotech­nol­o­gy at the Biotech­nol­o­gy Indus­try Orga­ni­za­tion, a Wash­ing­ton indus­try group that counts among its mem­bers Hemat­e­ch, the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based com­pa­ny that cre­at­ed the gene-altered cat­tle.

    “This shows the appli­ca­tion of trans­gen­ics to improv­ing live­stock pro­duc­tion and ulti­mate­ly food pro­duc­tion.”

    Pri­ons, which are nor­mal pro­tein com­po­nents of the brain, immune sys­tem and oth­er tis­sues, cause dis­ease only when they “go bad.” For these long strands of pro­tein, that means fold­ing them­selves into three-dimen­sion­al shapes that are slight­ly dif­fer­ent from their con­ven­tion­al con­for­ma­tion.

    Pri­ons remain poor­ly under­stood, but exper­i­ments sug­gest that it takes just one bad one to ruin a brain. That’s because a bad­ly fold­ed pri­on in the brain can strong-arm nor­mal, near­by pri­ons, turn­ing good pri­ons bad.


    “Appar­ent­ly it is not vital,” Richt said. “By our analy­sis — how do they eat, how is their heart rate, how is their immuno­log­i­cal func­tion — they seem to be nor­mal.”

    Richt empha­sized, how­ev­er, that the cat­tle are still young and may show signs of trou­ble as they age.

    Next came the ques­tion of whether they are pro­tect­ed against mad cow dis­ease, also known as bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy, or BSE. In one exper­i­ment, tis­sues from one of the ani­mals’ brains were grown in a cul­ture dish and exposed to two dif­fer­ent strains of infec­tious, mad cow pri­ons. As expect­ed, the bad pri­ons did not prop­a­gate, accord­ing to a report in yes­ter­day’s online issue of the jour­nal Nature Biotech­nol­o­gy.

    A more defin­i­tive test — injec­tion of mad cow pri­ons direct­ly into the brains of liv­ing pri­on-free ani­mals –is now under­way. Because it can take two years or more for symp­toms to appear (and even longer if pri­ons are eat­en, the usu­al mode of trans­mis­sion), it will be anoth­er six months or so before the results will be known, said James M. Robl, Hemat­e­ch’s pres­i­dent and chief sci­en­tif­ic offi­cer.

    Until Decem­ber 2003, mad cow dis­ease had nev­er been found in Amer­i­can cat­tle. That made the pris­tine U.S. herd an ide­al resource for com­pa­nies that extract blood and oth­er prod­ucts from cat­tle for use in human phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

    Lat­er, two oth­er BSE-infect­ed ani­mals were iden­ti­fied, inspir­ing Robl and his team­mates to devel­op pri­on-free cat­tle.

    But poli­cies enact­ed in recent years by the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment have so reduced the risk of BSE in this coun­try, Robl said (cur­rent esti­mates are that, at most, four to sev­en cas­es might be found if all 42 mil­lion head of U.S. cat­tle were to be test­ed) that it may not be nec­es­sary for Hemat­e­ch to use pri­on-free cat­tle as it strives to make potent, dis­ease-killing anti­bod­ies in cat­tle for use in humans with life-threat­en­ing infec­tions.

    “If BSE becomes an issue, we’ll know we can make these knock-outs,” Robl said. “So it’s more insur­ance at this point.”

    But what’s even worse is that the mad cow test­ing regime was active­ly cut by 90% back in April 2007, three months after the above arti­cle was pub­lished and two months after Cana­da had it’s 9th case of mad cow. That 9th case of Cana­di­an mad cow also came one month after the US lift­ed its ban on the impor­ta­tion of aged cat­tle from Cana­da to allow US ranch­ers access to cheap­er Cana­di­an cat­tle. The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for cut­ting back the US screen­ings by 90%? The low per­ceived risk and bur­don­some costs:

    USDA extends mad-cow test­ing at WSU lab
    Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished April 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page mod­i­fied April 17, 2007 at 11:45 AM

    By The Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    PULLMAN — The only mad-cow test­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry in the Pacif­ic North­west will remain open for six more months, but offi­cials insist­ed Wednes­day it was­n’t because of increased fears of the chron­ic brain-wast­ing dis­ease in the region.

    The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) con­tract for test­ing at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty’s Col­lege of Vet­eri­nary Med­i­cine expired March 1 as part of the agen­cy’s efforts to scale back mon­i­tor­ing for bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy (BSE), also known as mad-cow dis­ease.

    The USDA has extend­ed the con­tract through Sept. 30, with the option for fur­ther exten­sions, WSU offi­cials said Wednes­day.

    “Reports cir­cu­lat­ed in the media a few months ago that stat­ed the WSU lab­o­ra­to­ry was shut­ting down,” said Ter­ry McEl­wain, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Wash­ing­ton Ani­mal Dis­ease Diag­nos­tic Lab­o­ra­to­ry at WSU. “The USDA was sim­ply scal­ing back the amount of test­ing being done but was intent on main­tain­ing the capac­i­ty and abil­i­ty to ramp up BSE test­ing in a momen­t’s notice.

    The con­tract exten­sion is not the result of increased BSE fears in North­west herds, he said.

    “There is no increased con­cern or sus­pi­cion for BSE in the U.S. at this time, and the test­ing we’re doing is part of the USDA’s rou­tine sur­veil­lance that pro­tects ani­mal health and our food sup­ply,” McEl­wain said.

    The WSU lab was opened after the nation’s first mad-cow case, in the Yaki­ma Val­ley in Decem­ber 2003, prompt­ed some new safe­guards. Since then, it has processed more than 46,000 sam­ples sent from slaugh­ter­hous­es in five North­west states.

    It takes few­er than eight hours to test for BSE at the lab, which has the capac­i­ty to test sev­er­al hun­dred sam­ples a day.

    The USDA announced in March it was reduc­ing its cost­ly nation­al BSE test­ing and track­ing pro­grams by 90 per­cent. Of 759,000 ani­mals test­ed, only two oth­er infect­ed cows were found after the ini­tial mad-cow scare, prov­ing the dis­ease is extreme­ly rare, the USDA said.


    Mad-cow dis­ease has infect­ed more than 180,000 cat­tle world­wide since it was first dis­cov­ered in Great Britain in 1986.

    At least 180 peo­ple world­wide have died after eat­ing meat infect­ed with mad-cow dis­ease in the past two decades. Symp­toms can take years to devel­op.

    Did you catch the log­i­cal fun they employed in their deci­sion to cut back test­ing by 90%? We were assured that test­ing could be ramped up quick­ly if an emer­gency was detect­ed so don’t wor­ry that, by default, the screen­ing is set up miss most cas­es. After all, it’s rare so there aren’t many cas­es to catch. In oth­er words, it’s a screen­ing sys­tem designed to miss any­thing oth­er than a large uptick in mad cow cas­es. And in oth­er oth­er words, the beef indus­try is com­fort­able with unde­tect­ed low lev­els of mad cow infections...they’re just plan­ning on step­ping in if it gets past some thresh­hold. Sounds safe real safe, does­n’t it? That approach might work for the flu but mad cow ain’t the flu. If you REALLY want­ed to track an uptick in some­thing like mad cow, the LOWER your assumed base­line preva­lence of mad cow the HIGHER the num­ber of cows (or what­ev­er) you’d have to test. Unless you just don’t mind low lev­els of mad cow going unde­tect­ed. And when the low prob­a­bil­i­ty event (a mad cow infec­tion), is also an infec­tious low prob­a­bil­i­ty event AND the infec­tion can spread silent­ly for years between cows (and to humans poten­tial­ly), the assump­tion of sus­tained low lev­el infec­tions in our cat­tle sup­ply is the exact­ly that kind of sit­u­a­tion that turns an unde­tect­ed mad cow out­break to an “when” not “if” sce­nario. As long as the mad cow is NOT man­i­fest­ing as a slow­ly incu­bat­ing con­di­tion in young cat­tle (beef or dairy) the screen­ing regime can prob­a­bly catch a num­ber of cas­es that emerge in the lame/downer and elder­ly cat­tle (when the orig­i­nal source of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion is hard­est to deter­mine due to the pas­sage of time). But if there’s an emerg­ing prob­lem in young calves — a slow act­ing prob­lem that does­n’t result in a bunch of lame calves that can be iden­ti­fied — the pro­posed test­ing regimes that focus­es on old­er and lame cat­tle will remain blind to chron­ic low lev­el pri­on infec­tion in the younger cat­tle. At least that’s how it sounds in the arti­cles. I could eas­i­ly be wrong on this, but the way the news reports char­ac­ter­izes our screen­ing regime there is a huge blind spot for pri­on infec­tions in young cat­tle. It’s sup­posed to not be able to devel­op in them because they haven’t lived long enough for the pri­ons to spread, but that’s assum­ing pri­ons behave the same in the future as they have in the past. And in MoJo arti­cle below, this lat­est case in the old dairy cow appears to be an extra vir­u­lent form. Plus, the prac­tice of feed­ing blood prod­ucts to calves is still going on, allow­ing trans­mis­sion to young calves. Because low lev­el infec­tions would required a greater sen­siv­i­ty to detect, there’s going to be a high­er num­ber of tests required to pick up a low uptick in pri­ons. That’s the oppo­site of how things appear to be set up, with healthy look young cat­tle large­ly ignored from screen­ing now that things have been cut back 90%, so that’s kind of a big deal IF that “low prob­a­bil­i­ty” event of a wide spread infec­tion takes place amongst the young cat­tle and the mad cow screen­ing regime can’t pick it up.

    And that 90% screen­ing reduc­tion in 2007 is assum­ing that the detec­tion rate of 2 cows in 759,000 sam­ples test­ed from 2003–2007 is tru­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the preva­lence and that reg­u­la­tions designed to keep that rate down will be fol­lowed by the indus­try going for­ward indef­i­nite­ly. But as this arti­cle from Febuary 2007 indi­cates, the ramped up phase of the ini­tial mass screen­ing in 2004 (fol­low­ing the ini­tial mad cow case in 2003) was vol­un­tary. That sure sounds like the indus­try has a “choice” as to whether or not they sub­mit lame/downer cat­tle for test­ing, a sta­tis­ti­cal no-no when the prof­it motive and cor­po­rate rep­u­ta­tions are involved. And it’s an excep­tion­al­ly big deal when you’re talk­ing talk­ing about mea­sur­ing a very low prob­a­bil­i­ty event. You can’t miss those down­er cat­tle com­pa­nies might want to hide when you’re look­ing for a sup­posed one in a mil­lion event. In May of 2005 there was a pro­posed manda­to­ry test­ing regime that was to start by 2009, but in April of 2006 the test­ing regime was sig­nif­i­cant­ly scaled back due to esti­mates that the preva­lence of mad cow as very low (and this was based on the vol­un­tary test­ing that start­ed in 2004). This was also one month after the third case of mad cow was found in Alaba­ma. And in Novem­ber 2006, the USDA decid­ed to make the planned 2009 test­ing regime vol­un­tary. So keep in mind that while there is much tout­ing of the fact that this lat­est case in CA is the first case found in six years, that might have some­thing to do with the fact that test­ing was cut back by 90% five years ago:

    Thurs­day, Feb­ru­ary 22, 2007 — Page updat­ed at 12:00 AM

    Mad-cow scruti­ny is scaled way back

    By San­di Doughton

    Seat­tle Times staff reporter

    While Wash­ing­ton ranch­ers are rais­ing a fuss over Cana­di­an cat­tle and the dan­ger of mad-cow dis­ease, the region’s only mad-cow test­ing lab is qui­et­ly prepar­ing to close March 1.

    The lab at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty in Pull­man opened after the nation’s first mad-cow case spurred a flur­ry of new safe­guards against the fatal, brain-wast­ing dis­ease.

    But three years lat­er, many of those mea­sures are being dis­man­tled. Oth­ers pro­posed after the infect­ed dairy cow was dis­cov­ered in Mabton, Yaki­ma Coun­ty, nev­er mate­ri­al­ized.

    Mad-cow dis­ease

    Dec. 23, 2003: A Yaki­ma Val­ley dairy cow on its way to slaugh­ter tests pos­i­tive for mad-cow dis­ease. The cow orig­i­nal­ly came from Cana­da, where the dis­ease had been first con­firmed in May.

    Dec. 30, 2003: The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture bans “down­er” cat­tle, those too sick or injured to walk, from the food sup­ply.

    Jan. 26, 2004: The Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion pro­pos­es ban­ning feed­ing cow blood, chick­en manure and food scraps to cat­tle.

    June 1, 2004: USDA launch­es a pro­gram to test at least 220,000 ani­mals for mad-cow over the next 12 to 18 months.

    Novem­ber 2004: USDA starts a vol­un­tary pilot pro­gram to track and iden­ti­fy cat­tle in sev­en West­ern states.

    May 2005: Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Mike Johanns says a manda­to­ry, nation­wide ani­mal-track­ing sys­tem will be in place by 2009.

    June 24, 2005: Tests of a Texas beef cow con­firm the sec­ond case of mad-cow dis­ease in the U.S.

    March 2006: The nation’s third case of mad-cow dis­ease is con­firmed in a cow in Alaba­ma.

    April 2006: USDA says it will scale back mad-cow test­ing after deter­min­ing the preva­lence of the dis­ease in the nation’s cat­tle herd is “extra­or­di­nar­i­ly low.”

    Nov. 22, 2006: USDA revers­es its plans and says the nation­al ani­mal-track­ing pro­gram will be vol­un­tary, not manda­to­ry.

    Jan. 4, 2007: USDA says it may lift a ban on the impor­ta­tion of old­er cows from Cana­da.

    Last week: Cana­da reports its ninth mad-cow case.

    Source: Seat­tle Times archives

    The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) recent­ly scaled back mad-cow test­ing by more than 90 per­cent, lead­ing to clo­sure of the WSU lab and sev­er­al oth­ers around the coun­try. The agency has backed off plans for a manda­to­ry ani­mal-track­ing sys­tem, which can help iden­ti­fy the source of an infec­tion and oth­er ani­mals at risk, and now says the pro­gram will be vol­un­tary.

    Sev­er­al of the unap­pe­tiz­ing — and risky — prac­tices that came to light in the wake of the ini­tial mad-cow case are still allowed, includ­ing the use of cow blood as a food sup­ple­ment for calves.

    And even the pro­hi­bi­tion on slaugh­ter­ing sick­ly cows, called down­ers, for human con­sump­tion has not been made per­ma­nent, though it is being enforced.

    “There have been some improve­ments, but USDA stopped short of imple­ment­ing sev­er­al impor­tant pro­grams that are vital not only to pro­tect against [mad-cow], but to pro­tect the indus­try against oth­er dis­eases,” said Car­o­line Smith DeWaal, direc­tor of food safe­ty at the Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic Inter­est (CSPI), a non­prof­it con­sumer-advo­ca­cy group.

    The USDA says mad-cow is very rare in the Unit­ed States, and cost­ly test­ing and track­ing pro­grams aren’t nec­es­sary. Out of 759,000 ani­mals test­ed after the ini­tial mad-cow scare, only two oth­er infect­ed cows were found.

    The local cat­tle indus­try is most upset by USDA’s pro­pos­al to reopen the bor­der to ship­ments of old­er cat­tle from Cana­da. The first U.S. mad-cow case was an old Hol­stein shipped from Cana­da, and ranch­ers don’t want a repeat of the furor in Decem­ber 2003 that led dozens of nations to boy­cott Amer­i­can beef, said Jack Field, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Wash­ing­ton Cat­tle­men’s Asso­ci­a­tion.


    Field­’s group is back­ing bills in the state Leg­is­la­ture to strength­en tag­ging and track­ing of Cana­di­an cat­tle import­ed to the Unit­ed States and make it clear that vio­la­tors can be fined up to $1,000 per ani­mal.

    But local and nation­al cat­tle groups have fierce­ly object­ed to sim­i­lar­ly strict track­ing for Amer­i­can ani­mals, which is one of the rea­sons USDA aban­doned its push for a manda­to­ry sys­tem.

    Because ani­mal track­ing is so spot­ty, inves­ti­ga­tors were nev­er able to locate all of the cat­tle that were shipped from Cana­da with the first infect­ed cow, DeWaal point­ed out. The same prob­lems arose after the two oth­er infect­ed ani­mals were found, one in Texas and one in Alaba­ma. Both were born in the U.S.

    Safe­guards eased

    Cat­tle test­ing: A large-scale mad-cow test­ing pro­gram is end­ing.

    Ani­mal track­ing: A pro­posed manda­to­ry ani­mal-track­ing sys­tem will be vol­un­tary.

    Cat­tle feed: The use of cow blood as a food sup­ple­ment for calves is still allowed.

    Slaugh­ter restric­tions: A tem­po­rary ban on the slaugh­ter of ail­ing cows for human con­sump­tion has not been made per­ma­nent.

    Cana­di­an imports: A ban on old­er cows from Cana­da may be lift­ed.

    If anoth­er case turned up in Wash­ing­ton today, state vet­eri­nar­i­an Leonard Eldridge con­cedes, it would be no eas­i­er to fig­ure out where the ani­mal came from or locate oth­er cat­tle that could have eat­en the same feed — con­sid­ered the most like­ly route of infec­tion.

    “The need is still there to be able to iden­ti­fy ani­mals and con­tain a dis­ease quick­ly,” he said.

    BSE does not appear to jump from ani­mal to ani­mal, but with­out a good track­ing sys­tem, it would be dif­fi­cult to stop the spread of more high­ly infec­tious dis­eases, Eldridge said.

    Cana­da has adopt­ed a manda­to­ry track­ing sys­tem that requires detailed record-keep­ing and radio-fre­quen­cy ear tags.

    But when the Cat­tle Pro­duc­ers of Wash­ing­ton sift­ed through hun­dreds of pages of doc­u­ments on younger Cana­di­an ani­mals, which are cur­rent­ly allowed into the state, they found that many lacked the required ID tags, paper­work often did­n’t match health records and at least one ani­mal infect­ed with ring­worm entered the U.S.

    “What it real­ly boiled down to is that the Cana­di­an sys­tem is not even com­ing close to work­ing prop­er­ly,” said Willard Wolf, the Spokane cat­tle bro­ker who is the indus­try group’s vice pres­i­dent.

    USDA spokes­woman Andrea McNal­ly dis­missed the prob­lems as “minor record-keep­ing” issues, but said the agency is still inves­ti­gat­ing.

    Wolf said he’s opposed to manda­to­ry track­ing in the Unit­ed States because it’s expen­sive and not fea­si­ble for Amer­i­ca’s vast range­lands or the com­plex way cat­tle are shipped around the coun­try. He favors an expan­sion of the exist­ing sys­tem of brands.

    The Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture esti­mates only about 6 per­cent of the state’s cat­tle own­ers have reg­is­tered the loca­tion where they keep ani­mals, the first step in a vol­un­tary track­ing sys­tem.

    Almost all Euro­pean nations have ani­mal-track­ing sys­tems. Many would like to import Amer­i­can beef, but are wary because the sys­tem here is so hap­haz­ard, said Mo Salman, a mad-cow expert from Col­orado State Uni­ver­si­ty. “Some­times they laugh at us,” he said.

    Most Euro­pean and Asian nations also test a much high­er per­cent­age of ani­mals for mad-cow dis­ease than the Unit­ed States does.

    USDA boost­ed test­ing in 2004. Dur­ing an 18-month peri­od, a total of 759,000 ani­mals were test­ed, includ­ing 45,000 in the North­west.

    The fact that only two addi­tion­al cas­es turned up proves that BSE is exceed­ing­ly rare in the U.S, McNal­ly said. That’s why the agency decid­ed to scale back the cost­ly pro­gram and tar­get only about 40,000 ani­mals a year. U.S. test­ing still exceeds the rec­om­men­da­tions of the World Orga­ni­za­tion for Ani­mal Health.

    USDA’s inspec­tor gen­er­al had crit­i­cized USDA’s expand­ed test­ing pro­gram, say­ing it could have missed the high­est-risk ani­mals. The expand­ed sys­tem was vol­un­tary, so it might not have cap­tured a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of the nation’s herd.

    “It’s as though the USDA was design­ing a ‘don’t look, don’t find’ sys­tem,” said Michael Hansen, staff sci­en­tist for Con­sumers Union, pub­lish­er of Con­sumer Reports.

    Instead of mad-cow test­ing, Salman of Col­orado State Uni­ver­si­ty said the agency should improve enforce­ment of the two rules that pro­vide the best defense against BSE: a ban on pro­cess­ing cat­tle parts into cat­tle feed — a prac­tice that is believed to have touched off Britain’s mad-cow epi­dem­ic; and rules to keep the most infec­tive cow parts, like brains and spinal cords, out of the human food sup­ply.

    Even those mea­sures have fall­en short, accord­ing to an analy­sis by the con­sumer group Pub­lic Cit­i­zen that found more than 800 vio­la­tions in slaugh­ter­hous­es and meat-pack­ing plants in 2004 and 2005.

    Slaugh­ter­house waste and dead cat­tle are still used to make chick­en, pig and pet food. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing rules that would ban the brains and spinal cords of old­er cat­tle from all ani­mal feed, but a wide range of crit­ics say the rules still leave some dan­ger­ous loop­holes. One is the prac­tice of using cat­tle blood in for­mu­la fed to young calves.


    So not only was the ini­tial sam­pling of the rate of infec­tion in 2004 a vol­un­tary sam­pling (which rais­es seri­ous con­cerns about how rep­re­sen­ta­tive that rate of 2 in 759,000 cat­tle real­ly is), but ranch­ers were/are still poten­tial­ly feed­ing calves blood prod­ucts and plan­cen­ta which is known to spread the dis­ease from moth­er to calf. AND elder­ly cows from Cana­da, which has an even big­ger record­ed mad cow prob­lem, were now made avail­able for import.

    And, to bring it back around to the lat­est case of mad cow, now we know that an infect­ed cow was pro­duc­ing milk for who knows how many years in Cal­i­for­nia. On top of the obvi­ous con­cern of that infect­ed cow spread­ing the pri­ons to who knows how many dif­fer­et calves via the feed­ing of cat­tle blood for­mu­la, just how con­fi­dent can we real­ly be that pri­ons can’t be spread in milk. As one of the above arti­cles points out, exper­i­ments sug­gest just one bad pri­on can poten­tial­ly ruin a brain so the spread of bad pri­ons, even at low lev­els, is a very rel­e­vant ques­tion. Today’s pri­ons might not be as vir­u­lent as tomor­row’s strains. But we’re assured that every­one is safe because you can’t catch mad cow from milk. Why do we know that you can’t catch it? Because we haven’t observed it hap­pen­ing yet. That’s why. Some­how absence of evi­dence is evi­dence of future absence when it comes to low prob­a­bil­i­ty unprece­dent­ed future events. Even when being wrong about the risks might lead to Zom­bieland:

    Moth­er Jones
    Can You Get Mad Cow Dis­ease From Milk?

    -By Tom Philpott
    | Thu Apr. 26, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

    USDA-man­dat­ed test­ing turned up a downed Cal­i­for­nia dairy cow that was infect­ed with bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy (BSE), also known as mad cow dis­ease, the agency announced Tues­day. Accord­ing to an exec with the ren­der­ing plant where the poor beast end­ed up, it was cho­sen for test­ing com­plete­ly at ran­dom, hav­ing shown “no signs” of dis­ease.

    The sce­nario sug­gests that rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly, a BSE-infect­ed cow was pro­duc­ing milk for pub­lic con­sump­tion. Accord­ing to the USDA, there’s noth­ing to wor­ry about. The agen­cy’s chief vet­eri­nary offi­cer, John Clif­ford, released a state­ment Tues­day declar­ing that the the the cow in ques­tion had “atyp­i­cal BSE, a very rare form of the dis­ease not gen­er­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with an ani­mal con­sum­ing infect­ed feed.” He added that “milk does not trans­mit BSE.”

    USDA-man­dat­ed test­ing turned up a downed Cal­i­for­nia dairy cow that was infect­ed with bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy (BSE), also known as mad cow dis­ease, the agency announced Tues­day. Accord­ing to an exec with the ren­der­ing plant where the poor beast end­ed up, it was cho­sen for test­ing com­plete­ly at ran­dom, hav­ing shown “no signs” of dis­ease.

    The sce­nario sug­gests that rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly, a BSE-infect­ed cow was pro­duc­ing milk for pub­lic con­sump­tion. Accord­ing to the USDA, there’s noth­ing to wor­ry about. The agen­cy’s chief vet­eri­nary offi­cer, John Clif­ford, released a state­ment Tues­day declar­ing that the the the cow in ques­tion had “atyp­i­cal BSE, a very rare form of the dis­ease not gen­er­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with an ani­mal con­sum­ing infect­ed feed.” He added that “milk does not trans­mit BSE.”

    But act­ing on a tip from Con­sumers Union chief sci­en­tist Michael Hansen, I have found research that calls that claim into ques­tion. The research involves a brain-wast­ing dis­ease affect­ing sheep called scrapie, which, like BSE, is what’s known as a trans­mis­si­ble spongi­form encephalopa­thy. Unlike BSE, scrapie is not thought to infect humans; but like BSE, scrapie is thought to be caused by some­thing called pri­ons, which are rather ter­ri­fy­ing. Here’s how the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol describes them:

    So, I’ve found two dif­fer­ent stud­ies that sug­gest that scrapie does in fact trans­mit from sheep to sheep through milk.

    The first, by French, Nor­we­gian, and British researchers and pub­lished in the peer-reviewed US jour­nal PLoS Pathogens in 2008, found pri­ons in sheep milk. The authors state:

    This find­ing indi­cates that milk from small rumi­nants could con­tribute to the trans­mis­sion of pri­on dis­ease between ani­mals. It also rais­es some con­cern with regard to the risk to humans asso­ci­at­ed with milk prod­ucts from ovine and oth­er dairy species. [Empha­sis added.]

    The sec­ond, by UK researchers and pub­lished in BMC Vet­eri­nary Research in 2008, also demon­strat­ed “trans­mis­sion of scrapie from ewe to lamb via milk (or colostrum).”

    Now, this research does­n’t show that BSE can move from cow milk to humans. But it rep­re­sents evi­dence that pri­ons can move from ani­mal to ani­mal through milk. In a phone inter­view, Hansen stressed that pre­vi­ous stud­ies have sug­gest­ed that “clas­sic” BSE-not the “atyp­i­cal” one found in the Cal­i­for­nia cow-does not trans­mit through milk. But he added that he’s not aware of any stud­ies regard­ing “atyp­i­cal” BSE and milk. More­over, he added that the stud­ies regard­ing scrapie and milk are using “more sen­si­tive” test­ing pro­ce­dures than the pre­vi­ous ones involv­ing clas­sic BSE and cow’s milk.

    He called the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the BSE found in that Cal­i­for­nia dairy cow can pass through milk an “open ques­tion.”

    Hansen also not­ed a report in the Wash­ing­ton Post which stat­ed that the BSE found in the cow is of the L‑Type. “If that report is accu­rate, it’s not good news,” he said. He called L‑type BSE to be “far more vir­u­lent” than clas­si­cal BSE and point­ed me to a 2008 study in Emerg­ing Infec­tious Dis­eases that sub­ject­ed “human­ized” mice (genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered to have human pro­teins) to L‑type BSE. The study found that L‑type BSE tran­sit­ed to the mice with “no sig­nif­i­cant trans­mis­sion bar­ri­er,” while “in com­par­i­son, trans­mis­sion of clas­si­cal BSE agent to the same mice showed a sub­stan­tial bar­ri­er.”

    I asked Hansen if milk from a cow infect­ed with L‑type BSE posed more of a risk than that of milk from a cow with clas­sic BSE. “Oh, absolute­ly,” he replied.

    And with alarm­ing his­to­ry and a new case of mad cow at hand, will there at least be a review of our screen­ing poli­cies and maybe an attempt to update them? And will the new mad cow dis­cov­ery at least prompt the promised “ramped up” high­er rate of test­ing that can take place if a height­ened risk is found? Of course not:

    USDA Says Mad Cow Test Drop Is No Meat-Sup­ply Threat
    By Stephanie Armour and Alan Bjer­ga — Apr 26, 2012 9:36 AM CT

    The num­ber of cat­tle test­ed for mad cow dis­ease has fall­en almost 90 per­cent since 2005, accord­ing to U.S. Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment sta­tis­tics, a drop that con­sumer groups say endan­gers America’s food sup­ply.

    U.S. Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack yes­ter­day said that ani­mal test­ing is ade­quate, a day after his depart­ment con­firmed the nation’s first known case of mad cow dis­ease in six years, a dead dairy ani­mal on its way to a ren­der­ing plant in cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia.

    About 40,000 cat­tle were test­ed in the year end­ed Sept. 30, down from 399,575 in 2005, accord­ing to USDA data. The drop-off fol­lowed a surge in test­ing con­duct­ed to estab­lish the preva­lence of the dis­ease as the agency was try­ing to under­stand the risk and cre­ate a long-term mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem, John Clif­ford, the USDA’s chief vet­eri­nar­i­an, said in an inter­view.

    He said test­ing is only one com­po­nent of the agency’s strat­e­gy to com­bat mad cow dis­ease, which includes lim­it­ing the con­sump­tion of cer­tain parts of cat­tle and restrict­ing the con­tent of their feed. Chris Wal­drop, direc­tor of the Food Pol­i­cy Insti­tute of the Con­sumer Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­ca, a Wash­ing­ton-based safe­ty advo­ca­cy group, said the test­ing decline means the U.S. is rely­ing too much on oth­er safe­guards, which aren’t fool­proof.

    Need for Fire­walls

    “If you’re not going to test as much, your fire­walls bet­ter be per­fect, and there are loop­holes in the fire­walls,” Wal­drop said. “After going so long with­out hav­ing a case in the U.S., and now we have one, it war­rants anoth­er look at the sur­veil­lance pro­gram and ramp­ing it up, at least tem­porar­i­ly, to see if there is some­thing new going on.”

    USDA inves­ti­ga­tions typ­i­cal­ly include tests of ani­mals that were in the same herd as the dis­eased cow, as well as feed the ani­mal may have con­sumed, Clif­ford said. Even when an ani­mal tests pos­i­tive for a form of BSE not con­nect­ed to feed, as in this case, the inves­tiga­tive pro­ce­dures are the same, he said. Any off­s­r­p­ing of the infect­ed ani­mal are also checked.

    The USDA has not yet pub­licly iden­ti­fied the farm where the ani­mal came from, or if the cow had any calves. Clif­ford would not com­ment on the cur­rent inves­ti­ga­tion.

    Month­ly Fluc­tu­a­tion

    The new case won’t spur more tests, as one case of the dis­ease, known as bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy, in six years doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly indi­cate increased BSE preva­lence, Clif­ford said.

    The 2004 surge in test­ing was “an effort to col­lect as many sam­ples as we could over 12 to 18 months to deter­mine preva­lence in the U.S.,” Clif­ford said. “After that, we went to a reg­u­lar sur­veil­lance lev­el that far exceeds inter­na­tion­al stan­dards.”

    The sur­veil­lance tests focus on old­er cat­tle and ani­mals that may be exhibit­ing symp­toms of the brain-wast­ing dis­ease, he said.

    About 40,000 ani­mals are sam­pled each year, less than 0.1 per­cent of the U.S. cat­tle herd, accord­ing to USDA records.

    Test­ing has fluc­tu­at­ed in recent months, from 2,434 sam­ples in April 2012, down from 4,855 in March and 5,417 in Feb­ru­ary, accord­ing to the USDA.

    Analy­sis of the 2004 to 2006 data con­clud­ed the preva­lence of BSE in the U.S. is less than 1 case per mil­lion adult cat­tle, accord­ing to the agency. As of Jan. 1, the country’s herd of cat­tle and calves totaled 90.8 mil­lion ani­mals, accord­ing to the USDA.

    More test­ing isn’t nec­es­sary now that the USDA has a han­dle on the extent of the dis­ease, said Eric Mit­ten­thal, a spokesman with the Amer­i­can Meat Insti­tute, a trade group based in Wash­ing­ton that includes Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) and Cargill Inc. among its mem­bers.

    “Some crit­ics have argued that every ani­mal needs to be test­ed,” Mit­ten­thal said in an e‑mail. “That’s like say­ing that kinder­garten­ers should be test­ed for Alzheimer’s,” he said. “USDA appro­pri­ate­ly focus­es its sur­veil­lance on old­er ani­mals and ani­mals that are dis­play­ing clin­i­cal signs of the dis­ease,” he said.
    Ran­dom Tests

    Still, ran­dom tests aren’t enough to ensure that dis­eased cows don’t taint the food sup­ply, Michael Hansen, a staff sci­en­tist at the non­prof­it Con­sumers Union of Yonkers, New York, said yes­ter­day.

    U.S. test­ing “is very con­sis­tent with inter­na­tion­al stan­dards and we want to make sure we abide by those inter­na­tion­al stan­dards,” the USDA’s Vil­sack said.


    Don’t for­get that this whole dynam­ic is much like­li­er and more destruc­tive dur­ing a peri­od of con­cen­trat­ed eco­nom­ic pow­er and the cap­ture of very struc­ture of the econ­o­my through car­tels and a bought and paid for reg­u­la­to­ry scheme. Fas­cists bring gov­ern­ment on the cheap. That’s what “small gov­ern­ment” ends up being under stu­pid polit­i­cal dya­n­im­ics of any sort because the same incom­pe­tence that cre­ates the bloat cuts the fat. The gut­ting of mad cow test­ing because of cost is just insane giv­en the con­se­quences of a mess up. Bad pol­i­cy and bad pri­vate sec­tor behav­ior in con­cert is often super prof­itable but it can end up going awry and requir­ing a bailout. And mad cows get bio­log­i­cal bailouts. Those are the worst.

    Mad­ness: It’s what for din­ner.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 29, 2012, 11:27 pm
  5. @Pterrafractyl: While I still doubt a Mad Cow pri­on true epidemic(as in tens of mil­lions of deaths a la Span­ish Flu) is even remote­ly close to like­ly by any means, this infor­ma­tion is indeed wor­ri­some because there very well could be tens of thou­sands of peo­ple who could end up being sick­ened by this and have symp­toms not show up until a few decades after­wards, and then peo­ple won­der why so many peo­ple are dying of such sim­i­lar caus­es.

    I real­ize that there are still some decent peo­ple in the med­ical estab­lish­ment and hope­ful­ly they can start gain­ing the upper hand soon. =(

    Although, to be hon­est with you, I did­n’t believe BP when they claimed that the Gulf inci­dent was a ‘low prob­a­bil­i­ty’ event. Frankly, I think they knew it was the exact opposite......same may have gone for Fukushi­ma as well.

    Posted by Steven L. | April 30, 2012, 6:33 am
  6. @Steven L.: I’d agree that a mas­sive unde­tect­ed mad cow out­break high­ly unlike­ly to ran­dom­ly emerge. And it’s net not “like­ly” over, say, a ten year time frame. But if we keep up these dan­ger­ous indus­try prac­tices and main­tain the con­di­tions nec­es­sary for the high­ly unlike­ly to actu­al­ly hap­pen, it will even­tu­al­ly hap­pen. Just give it enough time. Think of that sto­ry from last year about the sci­en­tists that cre­at­ed an air­borne ver­sion of bird flu. The ran­dom steps required to go from the exist­ing reg­u­lar bird flu strains to an air­borne vari­ety were viewed as improb­a­ble events. Yes, even­tu­al­ly it would hap­pen because of sheer num­ber of sick bird farmed around the world, but the research com­mu­ni­ty had­n’t expect­ed these researchers to make the much feared air­borne strain so eas­i­ly. All they had to do was keep pass­ing mutat­ed strain from one ani­mal to the next and in less than 10 iter­a­tions that had their air­borne strain and voila, nature defied our odds mak­ers. Now, the muta­tion rates of a virus aren’t the same as the muta­tion rates in cows. But think about unknowns like the prac­tice of rou­tine­ly genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fy­ing and mass cloning cat­tle or bioter­ror. The bioter­ror poten­tial is espe­cial­ly trou­ble­some because it’s so obvi­ous to the world that there are these large sys­temic blind spots in the screen­ing. It’s like walk­ing around with a “kick me and then poi­son-me” sign taped to your back. You’re just ask­ing for it. Because of unknown fac­tors like these I would put the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a seri­ous out­break some time over the next 50 years as more than remote. It’s still unlike­ly over­all, but I can’t say I’d be par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­prised at this point if we dis­cov­ered one day that, say, 25% of peo­ple Alzheimers patients were also suf­fer­ing from low-lev­el mad cow-com­pli­ca­tions. It also would­n’t be sur­pris­ing if that nev­er hap­pened. That’s how I’d char­ac­ter­ize my sense of odds of a seri­ous future mad cow at this point: it’s not prob­a­ble but still rea­son­able pos­si­ble giv­en what we now.

    Most of the ways we could poten­tial­ly destroys our­selves are indi­vid­u­al­ly unlike­ly. It’s the sheer num­ber of grave­yards that we’re whistling past these days that’s going to seal our doom.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 30, 2012, 9:06 am
  7. The sup­posed advan­tages to the pub­lic of car­tel oper­a­tions are uni­for­mi­ty of pro­duc­tion qual­i­ty, economies of scale and stream­lined reg­u­la­tion. None of these ever quite mate­ri­al­ize. Instead we get price col­lu­sion, low­er qual­i­ty, cor­rup­tion of the entire chain of pro­duc­tion and an indus­try large enough to con­trol its own leg­isla­tive agen­da. That’s hap­pened with cof­fee, bananas, sug­ar, oil, steel, ten­nis shoes and baby rat­tles over a cen­tu­ry. Many small sup­pli­ers of a com­mod­i­ty is what makes for an equi­table mar­ket. Full employ­ment, many medi­um wealthy peo­ple and no bil­lon­aires is the result of such a mar­ket. Lim­its to per­son­al net worth and a glob­al end to secret bank­ing are a first step. OWS needs that as a def­i­nite agen­da. Then we would see the real bat­tle lines drawn.

    Posted by Dwight | April 30, 2012, 10:47 am
  8. @Pterrafractyl: And I very much agree with you. It is far bet­ter, no, INFINITELY bet­ter, in this case, to be extra-cau­tious and nev­er have a sin­gle out­break, than to be total­ly care­less and for tens of thou­sands to start drop­ping dead. And unfor­tu­nate­ly, if care­less­ness con­tin­ues, then a sig­nif­i­cant out­break is indeed pos­si­ble with­in half a cen­tu­ry or so.

    I do hope things will get bet­ter, but we must con­tin­ue to remain as vig­i­lant as pos­si­ble if that is to be achieved.

    Posted by Steven L. | April 30, 2012, 4:38 pm
  9. @Dwight: That is def­i­nite­ly some­thing I can agree with.

    Posted by Steven L. | May 1, 2012, 7:58 am

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