Forum explains mad cow disease

Thursday, January 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:05 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Call it luck or wisdom.

Either way, when the United States banned the use of rendered meat and bone meal from ruminant animal diets in 1997, it cut off the possible amplification of mad cow disease, unlike European counterparts.

According to Jeff Tyler, professor of internal medicine and epidemiology at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, there are other reasons the United States hasn’t seen the extent of the disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, like in Europe.

“We have a warmer climate, so we have greater access to plant source proteins. Soybean meal, for example,” he said.

Nearly 230 people assembled in the MU Veterinary Medical Auditorium on Wednesday afternoon to learn more about the disease.

Audience members, ranging from farmers to representatives from social service agencies attended the session.

Tyler explained the science behind transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, including that of kuru and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which affects humans, mad cow disease, scrapie in sheep and goats, and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk.

An extended incubation time from contracting the disease and experiencing clinical signs are common to all spongiform encephalopathies.

Chronic weight loss and neurological defects can also be seen in the subject.

The disease, in both human and bovine form, progresses slowly, with clinical signs not detectable for months or years.

Ten experts in the field of veterinary, food sciences and nutrition, meat science, and state regulatory agencies were on hand to answer questions from the public Wednesday. Many of the questions revolved around food safety, recent livestock regulations and future steps the industry might see.

Eric Berg, MU animal science professor, was on the panel as an expert in meat sciences. Berg said there hasn’t been a BSE case in cattle 30 months of age, the common age of U.S. slaughter cattle.

Others in the audience wondered why so many “cautionary regulations” were implemented. Brent Bryant, executive vice president for the Missouri Cattleman’s Association, said that beef exports were closed because of standard trading practices, and that was not unexpected.

“Ten percent of U.S. beef is exported,” Bryant told the crowd.

Cattle producers in the audience asked how live U.S. animals will be traced back to origin herds.

State veterinarian Taylor Woods said, as an example, that farmers might be asked to implant radio frequency ear tags into their animals. The information would be given to the state and then forwarded to the national level. That would allow animals to be tracked from place to place.

The first recognized case of BSE was in 1986 in Europe. Nearly 200,000 worldwide cases have been reported. Two were Canadian — one in Canada and one that traveled to the United States. About 150 people have been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the United Kingdom, a country with 60 million people, Tyler said.

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