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USDA Beefs Up Meat Safety Precautions

New Restrictions to Add Extra Layer of Protection Against Mad Cow Disease

What are the symptoms of vCJD?

The disease affects all age groups and is very hard to diagnose until it has nearly run its course. In its early stages, people have symptoms related to the nervous system, like dementia and jerking muscle movements. But only in advanced stages of the disease can brain abnormalities be detected by X-ray or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

Is it possible to get vCJD from eating food purchased in the U.S.?

It is extremely unlikely that this would happen. To prevent mad cow disease from entering the country, since 1989 the federal government has prohibited the importation of certain types of live animals from countries where mad cow disease is known to exist. This ban includes meat products used in human, animal, and pet foods.

Can you get vCJD from drinking milk from an infected cow?

Milk and milk products are not believed to pose any risk for transmitting mad cow disease to humans. Experiments have shown that milk from mad cow-infected cows has not caused infections.

What about other products produced from cow by-products?

The FDA stops the importation of cosmetic and dietary supplement ingredients containing bovine materials from animals originating in the 33 countries where mad cow disease has been found or from animals at risk of being infected.

What is the current risk to American consumers traveling to foreign countries?

According to the CDC, the current risk of acquiring vCJD from any specific country appears to be extremely small. But that cannot be precisely determined because cattle products from one country might be distributed and consumed in others.

How long have health officials been concerned about mad cow disease?

Mad cow disease has been of great concern since 1986, when it was first reported among cattle in the U.K. At its peak in January 1993, almost 1,000 new cases per week were identified.

What other countries have reported cases of mad cow disease?

The disease also has been confirmed in native-born cattle in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland.

Canada has also been added to the list of countries from which imports are restricted, although that ban has been lifted recently. Importation of minimal-risk meat products is now allowed from Canada.

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