Udderly Clean: No 'Mad Cow' in U.S., Feds Claim
April 16, 2001 (Washington) -- In spite of reassurances from
government scientists, consumer groups say they're not satisfied that America's
food supply is sufficiently protected from mad cow disease. Adding to these
fears are persistent worries that the incurable illness may be present in a
wide variety of products from blood to collagen injections to dissolvable
"We still have no evidence that this disease either exists
in cattle or in people in the United States," Murray Lumpkin, MD, senior
advisor at the Food and Drug Administration, tells WebMD. "There's a
message in that."
Mad cow disease has been linked to the consumption of beef
contaminated by a mysterious protein known as a prion. Both cows and humans can
contract the disease by eating contaminated food. In humans, the disease is
called new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.
So far in England, some 100 people have died from new variant
Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. Still, the overall risk for contracting it in the
U.S. is pretty small, say experts.
"For any individual consumer [it's] a low probability
event," says Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, deputy director of Public Citizen's
Health Research Group. "However, when you multiply that by hundreds of
millions of people who eat cow in this country -- if it happens, it would be
As concern over a possible U.S. outbreak has grown, public
health officials have taken a number of steps, including restrictions on some
suspect ingredients in animal feed and a ban on importing cud-chewing animals
from all of Europe. Also, the FDA has prohibited the use of mammalian protein
in the manufacture of animal feed given to animals thought to be susceptible to
mad cow disease.
However, at a daylong consumer briefing sponsored by the Food
and Drug Administration, it was clear that critics of government policy aren't
satisfied with these steps. For instance, Lurie says it's still possible that
feeds not intended for cows can get consumed by the animals accidentally.
"The FDA's own data make it clear -- hundreds of feed
manufacturers have still not been inspected, and hundreds of those that have do
not have adequate procedures in place, either to adequately handle their
products or, more importantly, to prevent the commingling of the different
lines," he says Lurie.
Lurie also says he thinks that feed containing animal protein
should not be given to pigs or poultry on the chance they could come down with
mad cow disease or something like it.
According to the FDA, about 90% of U.S. rendering plants that
handle materials from cud-chewing animals -- those most likely to develop a mad
cow-like disease -- were found to be in compliance with the feed separation
rule. The initial inspection visits, some 6,000 of them nationally, focused on
education and record keeping.