USDA: Mad Cow Risk in U.S. Still Low
Mad Cow Case Likely Imported From Canada
Recalled Meat Poses Little Risk
The USDA issued a recall of the 10,410 pounds of meat from all
cows slaughtered on Dec. 9 at the same facility.
Officials initially said the meat was distributed primarily in
Oregon and Washington and also in California and Nevada. Later, officials
acknowledged that small quantities of meat may have also been shipped to
Alaska, Montana, Hawaii, Idaho, and the U.S. territory of Guam.
But they say this recalled meat poses virtually no risk to
consumers because all of the affected nervous system-related tissue was removed
at the slaughter facility.
"Because meat leaving [the slaughter facility] did not
contain the high-risk material, the recalled meat presents an essentially zero
risk to consumers," says Ken Peterson, DVM, of the USDA's Food Safety and
"This recall was initiated out of an abundance of
caution," says Petersen. "Even though we remain confident in the safety
of these beef products, we are and we will continue to verify distribution and
control of all products related to this recall."
What is mad cow disease?
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is
a transmissible, slowly progressive, degenerative, and fatal disease affecting
the central nervous system of adult cattle. The USDA tests some 20,000
animals every year for this disease.
Researchers believe that the infectious agent that causes mad
cow disease is a protein normally found on cell surfaces, called a prion. For
reasons still unknown, this protein becomes altered to become disease
Does cooking food kill the prion that causes mad cow disease?
Common methods to eliminate disease-causing organisms in food, like heat, do
not affect prions. Also, prions only seem to live in nervous system tissue.
Does mad cow disease affect humans?
A human version of mad cow disease called variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is believed to be caused by eating nerve
tissue, such as brain and spinal cord, from cattle infected with mad cow
disease. For this reason, the USDA requires that all nervous system materials
be removed from cattle that are unable to walk -- an indication that there may
be a neurological problem. These cow products do not enter the U.S. food
supply. The USDA believes this practice effectively safeguards U.S. public
health from vCJD.
According to the CDC, no cases of vCJD have been identified in the U.S.
Having said that, it is important to clarify the differences
between variant CJD and another form of the disease, referred to as classic
CJD. Classic CJD occurs each year at a rate of 1 to 2 cases per 1 million
people throughout the world, including in the U.S. and other countries where
mad cow disease has never occurred. It is not linked to the consumption of
nerve tissue from mad cow disease-affected cattle -- both vegetarians and meat
eaters have died from classic CJD.