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Mad Cow Disease: U.S. Experts Work to Stop It Before It Starts

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"We have more than 250 veterinarians that respond to suspicious foreign animal diseases in the U.S.," Curlept tells WebMD. "We are fairly confident, but we are not complacent, and are trying to learn as much as we can from Europeans. If BSE is here, we can either stop it or find it before it becomes widespread."

The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in Boston had been working under a USDA grant to evaluate the situation in the U.S. should mad cow disease arise here.

George Gray, director of the program in food safety and agriculture there, tells WebMD, "I consider there to be a very small risk to human health or cattle for the U.S. I haven't changed my diet. I still eat beef."

But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, he says.

Gray credits the safety of the U.S. food supply to the preventive vigilance of the FDA/USDA. "They have taken a lot of action in a situation where we haven't had the disease," he says. "Europe is scrambling to do what we are already doing [after they've already found the disease there]."

For example, the U.S. has instituted the measure that bans the use of animal protein in animal feeds meant for ruminants, or animals that chew cud. "This is a pretty amazing step for a country without the disease to take," says Gray.

There have also been a lot of efforts taken to do determine if the disease is here, he says. "We have been looking pretty hard for seven or eight years and haven't seen it," he says.

But, will mad cow disease ultimately find it's way into the U.S. food supply?

"Never say never," he says. "It's extremely unlikely, [but] that's not to say we won't have a sick cow. We could. In the U.K., they still don't know where it came from, so it is entirely possible that we can have a case."

If this occurs, "U.S. reaction may be out of proportion. The government could do a better job of telling people just how much they are doing," says Gray. "The Germans said 'BSE will never happen here,' and it did; and people went berserk."

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