Recent isolated cases of mad cow disease are no cause for panic – UN agency
Four cases of mad cow disease in cattle in Canada and the United States and a single confirmed case in a goat in France should not cause panic among consumers and producers over the scourge, which is fatal in humans, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the disease’s scientific term, is a degeneration of the central nervous system that is fatal in adult cattle and was first diagnosed in cattle in 1986 in the United Kingdom. Scientists believe it causes variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans through consumption of contaminated beef products from infected cattle, resulting in 148 deaths in the last 10 years, almost all in the UK. A recent case in Japan involved a person who had visited the UK.
FAO noted that these latest cattle cases were detected because of the testing procedures now in place. More than 176,000 tests out of a total cattle population of almost 95 million were carried out in the US and more than 21,000 out of 14.5 million cattle in Canada during 2004. Transmission is thought to be by oral ingestion of animal feed containing BSE-infected meat and bone meal and a ban on feeding such matter has been in place in both countries since 1997.
There is a need for a steady, scientific approach to ensure that the disease is kept out of unaffected countries, including identification of animals by use of ear tags or electronic systems, national registration and movement records and compulsory testing of suspect animals, all of which are essential, FAO added.
The agency is working with Swiss experts to train veterinary staff in other countries, including Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Near East, in methods of diagnosis, surveillance and prevention.
Essential control measures include the exclusion of potentially infective materials from the feed chain and improved practices in the rendering and feed industries.
The goat diagnosed with BSE in France was the first food animal other than cattle to contract the disease naturally. It was thought that sheep and goats were only affected by scrapie which is distinguishable from BSE and not thought to be transmissible to humans. But FAO stressed that this was one example in millions, and the goat was born before Europe imposed a total ban on feeding potentially infected meat and bone meal to livestock in January 2001.