October 13, 2003
US Coming Up of New Ways to Prevent BSE
Though presently there is not a single case of mad cow infection ever found in the United States, the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration are looking at new ways to prevent the disease.
One proposal being discussed is to test all cows that get sick and die on a farm, even if mad cow is not suspected. Discovery of a sick cow in Canada has led the United States to re-examine ways to protect U.S. herds.
Veterinarians and food safety regulators test for mad cow disease because it is linked to a similar incurable illness that affects humans, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. An estimated 100 people died of the illness in Europe after an outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s.
The Agriculture Department's idea in testing for mad cow disease in cattle that get sick or die on the farm is to make possible the detection of head off problems early, prevent the brain-wasting illness from infecting animals and, ultimately, to protect consumers.
Mad cow disease is believed to be caused by a deformed protein that attacks the brain, turning it into a spongelike mass. Till now, it is incurable.
Dr. William Hueston, a veterinarian at the University of Minnesota and expert on mad cow disease, said the government is in a Catch-22.
"If we're successful in preventing a disease from occurring, we will be criticized for wasting taxpayer dollars on something that never occurred," he said. "On the other hand, if a disease occurred, we would be criticized for not acting quickly enough."