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[Focus] No mad cow scare in Korea

Posted February. 07, 2001 21:11,   


Domestic veterinarians agree that there is little possibility of mad cow disease breaking out in Korea. Korean farmers used to feed food scraps to hogs since old times and give their leftovers to cattle, too. But no cases of the disease have yet been found, they said.

A member of the veterinary department faculty at Seoul National University claimed that using leftovers salvaged from food outlets hardly poses a problem in itself. However, he continued, it should not be given to such ruminants as cattle, sheep, deer or goats as long as there is a risk of animal protein contaminated by metamorphosed protein related to the disease creeping into them.

According to a professor at Hallym University Medical School, sheep, goats and similar grass-eating animals might inherently develop Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), a general syndrome for various mad cow diseases affecting cattle, sheep and human beings. Koreans have eaten beef marrow for centuries, but there were no reports of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human form of mad cow disease, among them.

In the United Kingdom, one out of 500 contracts scrape, yet the sheep-eating Britons have not suffered from mad cow disease. Generally speaking, a disease can hardly move over the boundary of species, they believe.

Little chance of human form of mad cow disease:

Because sheep and cattle share similar structures of transmorphosed protein, a cow that has eaten leftovers from a sheep might get mad cow disease, a Seoul National veterinarian said. However, he said, the protein, or preon, in a human and a cow is so different in its structures in over 30 respects that communication of mad cow disease from cattle is difficult. He studied methods of diagnosing mad cow disease in 1996-99 with a grant from the Rural Development Administration.

A Chungang University professor also downplayed the possibility of humans contracting mad cow disease to one in 1 million.

Clinical tests were conducted on 26,688 cattle for three years, intensive tests upon 200 of them, but none of them revealed any sign of mad cow disease here.

Keep up vigilance:

Specialists are confident that the people should feel safe as long as the government carries out its preventive measures properly. They attribute the current mad cow scare to an easygoing response of the government to the challenge.

Since 1996, when hundreds of thousands cattle were destroyed in the United Kingdom as a result of the disease, veterinarians and health specialists called for timely countermeasures, but the government remained unresponsive. Some academics at the time recommended an embargo on powdered bone or cosmetics containing such dubious elements, but officials did not listen for fear of fanning an unjustified scare, they said.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry lied that no animal feed had been imported. An appeal for the creation of a special research center to look into special protein substances conducive to mad cow disease fell on deaf ears on the ground that there was no incidence of the disease in Korea.

Sin Yeon-Su ysshin@donga.com