Breaking news from Ottawa, Canada: a second case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), known more colorfully as “mad cow disease” has been announced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The diseased cow was born after the Canadians tightened feed restrictions in 1997, and it’s not linked to the 2003 case or the more recent case announced on January 2nd.
This is happening just as the United States was going to open up its border to allow importation of cattle from Canada (it’s been closed for about 17 months now), but now maybe that doesn’t sound like such a good idea after all…
If you’re thinking “oh, two cases in millions of cattle, what’s the problem?” you probably just aren’t aware of how frightening and dangerous BSE really is. So here are a few facts to ponder:
- BSE in the brain affects the brain and spinal cord of cattle. Lesions are characterized by sponge-like changes visible with an ordinary microscope. The agent is highly stable, resisting freezing, drying and heating at normal cooking temperatures, even those used for pasteurization and sterilization.
- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is one of a class of what are called Transmittable Spongiform Encephalophathies (TSEs), and when humans contract it, it’s called classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).
- Classic CJD is a human disease characterized by progressive dementia, leading to death. The disease may start with confusion or mental symptoms. Other symptoms are difficulty moving and muscle jerks. More and more signs and symptoms of brain damage and movement disorder follow until the patient goes into a coma and dies.
- Evidence suggests that it might take between 10 to 40 years to get sick with classic CJD once abnormal proteins have begun to develop. Classic CJD almost always occurs in people over 50 years old. Once someone gets classic CJD, they may live for 6 to 12 months.
- Variant CJD is a disease in humans that has been linked to ingesting meat infected with the prion that causes mad cow disease (BSE). Variant CJD tends to occur in younger people (average age 29 rather than 65 for classic CJD) and has slightly different symptoms than classic CJD.
And now after wreaking unbelievable havoc on the British, then European cattle market, BSE is slowly but surely making its way here, to North America. And it can take ten years to diagnose someone who has been infected by bad meat, gelatin products, vaccines, or even cosmetics. This means that it’s impossible to control an outbreak if it does occur in a slaughterhouse or packing plant (and in case you’re wondering, brain and spinal matter does end up on your meat in a slaughterhouse by virtue of the way that cattle are killed and butchered).
For my part, this just reinforces why I’m a vegetarian, but for you, does this make you think twice about eating beef?