Updated September 2002
The Cow Connection
Testing 1 - 2 - 3, Testing
BSE Surveillance in Canada
BSE Surveillance in the US
BSE Testing vs Herd Count
BSE Surveillance in Australia
Signs of Trouble
No Perfect Test
CJD & Alzheimer's -Twins?
Mystery Mutilations - An Answer?
Downers and Stetsonville
Mad Cows, Englishmen and The BSE Inquiry
Scientists Also at Fault
Countries at Highest Risk
This is Now. . .
Misery Hates Company
The Moo Heard Round The World
Where was Brit Beef Shipped?
Greed, Slackness, Loopholes
Our Own Country's Greed
THE COW CONNECTION
By Holly Deyo
As of January 1, 2001, every bovine reaching 30 months of age and intended for human consumption must be tested for BSE in the European Union. This does not guarantee food is 100% safe, but it is a vast improvement. Professor Peter Smith, acting chairman of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee stated, "Thousands of infected animals were going into the food chain in the late 1980s and early 1990s and it is estimated that there is now only about one animal going into the food chain a year."1 (That's still one too many!)
TESTING 1 - 2 - 3, TESTING
Canada's BSE Surveillance and Monitoring program has been active since 1992. In the first 6 months of 1998, a total of 674 bovine brains were tested (down 11% from the 1997 total). Canada's bovine population was 12,654,500 strong in 2000. About 3.5 million were slaughtered for use. Assuming there were comparable numbers for 1998, 674 tests performed out of 3.5 million cows is a pittance. All specimens came back negative.
Only one cow in Canada, which had been imported from the UK in
1987, has ever been found to have BSE. That cow and all its herdmates
are now enjoying life in "cow heaven".
As of the first week of January 2001, Canada has instituted a tagging program. The number identifies the exact location of the farm where a beef or dairy cow was born. It is designed to trace an animal within hours.
(Number of BSE samples vs cow population)
If you look back to last week's newsletter at the incidence of CJD in Canada, it primarily shows up in the three provinces where it's mostly densely populated. There is also a higher percentage of BSE testing in those provinces: Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.
BSE SURVEILLANCE IN AMERICA
America, too, has done extensive testing for BSE with the biggest
jump in both brains submitted to be tested as well as actual testing
performed during this past year.
This program in effect since 1990 began BSE educational outreach, educating the entire veterinary field and producers about the clinical signs and pathology of this disease.
That same year, they also began a program to trace back cattle imported from the UK. Of 496 cattle imported into the U.S. from the U.K. between 1981 and 1989, only 32 are "missing."
In 1993, the surveillance program was expanded to include "downer" cows - those cattle who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to stand.
by Fiscal Year as of October 31, 2000
By 1994, testing included looking for abnormal prion proteins.
If you look where these CJD cases have occurred in America (see Moo Madness - Part 1), they loosely parallel areas in which the greatest number of BSE testing has been performed. In any given year, approximately 30,000,000 head of beef are slaughtered in the US. Considering only 11,700 brains have been tested for BSE over ten years out of ~100,000,000 animals maintained in herds each year, these numbers are pitifully small compared to the number of cows tested in the UK and France.
BSE SURVEILLANCE IN AUSTRALIA
Australia began testing cattle for BSE in 1998 through the NTSESP (National Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Surveillance Program). The program is jointly funded by industry and the government under Animal Health Australia.
As of March 31, 1999, Australia's cattle numbered 25,833,000. Annually, about 2 million head are slaughtered for human consumption. Out of nearly 26 million head of beef, normally only 500 cows are tested for BSE each year. Australia estimates that by raising "the sampling levels to 500 cattle and sheep (will) provide a 95% probability of finding a 0.5% level of infection."2
SIGNS OF TROUBLE
Testing is requested when a farmer or producer spots a bovine
acting "funny", exhibiting signs of a neurological disorder. A
cow might seem anxious, fearful and apprehensive. They react more
to sound and touch. Sometimes they'll lick their nose or hind
quarters excessively. When walking they sway which is sometimes
seen with high stepping back feet. The bovine may separate from
the herd, seem nervous, have trouble standing and lose weight.
These signs are similar to sheep with Scrapie.
The farmer then notifies a government authorized veterinarian in his area. The animal is slaughtered and the brain is sent in for testing.
Since cattle are imported to Australia as they are in the US and Canada, bovines are quarantined for a time before being released into the community. This may be an exercise in futility as cows may take up to 30 months to show signs of BSE.
NOTE: Numbers in green area are samples testing negative only.
Source: Animal Health Australia
In Australia, the attitude is pretty relaxed, but concerned. One scientist worried that Australia might become too complacent since this country has neither scrapie or BSE.
I spoke with Simon Winters of Animal Health Australia Monday and he shared that they are working on a new test method which would allow abattoirs (slaughter houses) to examine bovines on the spot. This procedure has yet to be determined if it's suitable.
NO PERFECT TEST
A leading Italian scientist and professor of pathology at the University of Zurich's Institute of Neuropathology, Adriano Aguzzi warned that BSE tests aren't infallible and can't guarantee of the health of animals.
"Anything you test in terms of infectious disease has a window of false negatives. Even if many tests are negative, we cannot be sure that BSE has been defeated,"3 stated Aguzzi. BSE can't be detected unless it's in the late incubation stage. Dr. Aguzzi who is considered one of the leading scientists in his field, gave a further sobering commentary on the human form of the disease. "If you look at the numbers, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the number of vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) cases is increasing exponentially. I am not optimistic."4
Complicating matters is having no test for BSE while cattle are "on the hoof", that is, still alive. However, one such test may be on the way.
Researchers at Colorado State University are scrambling to find a live test for chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, but significant obstacles still stand in the way.
As of August 2002,a tonsil test developed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife remains the only way to test a living animal for the fatal brain disease, found in wild deer and elk herds.
Doctors at Colorado State University are trying to perfect a simpler and more efficient method that would test the animal's urine or blood.4.5 Should this pan out, it might be applicable to cattle.
Both animals and people can harbor prions, the infectious protein which causes the disease in everything, and not show any symptoms. This makes testing the beef imperative before it is sent off for consumption if we are to stay head, and in some countries, get ahead of this lethal disease.
France, with 5.7 million cattle, is now testing 20,000 animals each week and found 153 infected animals last year. Shouldn't the rest of us be performing a few more tests, make that a lot more tests? Maybe they are. . .
© Text and Graphics, 2001 Stan and Holly Deyo, except where otherwise credited