Mo. experts, industry insist beef is safe

They express confidence in U.S. safeguards against mad cow disease.
Thursday, December 25, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:29 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Despite the discovery of mad cow disease on a dairy farm in Washington state, Missouri’s beef supply of 4.5 million cattle is safe, veterinary and beef industry experts say.

Missouri’s $1 billion-per-year beef industry ranks second in the nation, behind Texas. There are 40,000 cattle in Boone County alone. Dr. Jeff Tyler, professor of food animal medicine and surgery at the MU School of Veterinary Medicine, who recently co-authored a research paper on mad cow disease, wasn’t surprised to hear about the Washington case. However, he said people should not be concerned about contracting the disease, which is officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

“There has never been a human case linked to an animal contact in this country,” Tyler said. “Your chance of getting mad cow disease is less than that of being struck by lightning twice in one afternoon.”

The human manifestation of mad cow disease is a variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This variant form is associated with eating the brain and spinal cord of cattle.

Rusty Kahrs, president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, said beef is safe.

“The fire walls in place that actually caught this are in place to provide food safety so consumers can remain confident that the food supply is safe,” Kahrs said. “I myself will be eating beef for Christmas dinner, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a beef producer that’s not.”

The 1980s mad cow disease outbreak in Great Britain occurred because cattle farmers were feeding their herds ruminant proteins that spread the disease. There was no attempt to control the disease’s spread until after it had developed in multiple locations.

Learning from that, bans and precautionary screenings were implemented to prevent an outbreak in the United States. The ban on feeding ruminant animal proteins has been in place since 1997.

“With 60,000 beef producers (in Missouri), this situation is going to have a pretty big impact in the beef industry in Missouri,” said Steve Taylor, executive director of the Missouri Beef Industry Council. “We tend to think the systems the USDA and FDA have put in place are going to help us isolate it very quickly.”

Dr. Howard Pue, the Missouri state public health veterinarian, said none of the recalled beef from Washington is associated with Missouri.

“None of the beef products came here and the cattle was not from here, and we certainly do not think there is a public health risk at this time.”

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