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U.S. “Turns Away” from Cow Disease

Posted May. 28, 2003 21:26,   


With the announcement of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, in Canada last week, there has been concern that the United States may also not be completely safe from the disease.

Tara Parker-Pope, a health reporter at the Wall Street Journal reported in `Health` dated May 27 that “with the first discovery of a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy in North America in 10 years, the filthy secrets of the U.S. cattle industry are being exposed.” The following is a summary of the report.

The U.S. and Canada have not enforced safety measures against bovine spongiform encephalopathy like that for Europe and many other regions. The flesh and blood powder forage known to cause contamination in bovine spongiform encephalopathy is openly used on the North American continent.

The U.S. prohibits feeding cows, sheep, goats and deer with food made from protein of similar animals. However, animals such as fowl and pigs, are fed to cows so logically speaking, there is possibility that cows in the U.S. may encounter infected forage products. In other countries, using animals as forage is strictly prohibited.

The possibility of the appearance of a cow with the disease is not as low as what the cattle industry has announced. And though it has yet to be found in cows, a similar disease has been discovered in deer, elk (type of larger deer) and minks.

Moreover, the U.S. imports 1.7 million cows annually along with 453 million kilograms of beef, which take up 4% of total beef consumption in the U.S.

The major parts that have the greatest possibility of infecting others from an infected cow are the brain, the spinal cord and the central nervous system. Contrary to that in Europe, sales of cow brains are prohibited in the U.S. Beef with bones, like T-bone steak from the backbone of a cow can contain part of the spinal cord.

The pieces of meat taken by injecting high-pressure water and air into a dead cow are used in hot dogs or in low quality hamburger patties. According to research from the U.S. Agricultural Department last year, it was found that more than 1/3 of these products had some part of the animal`s central nervous system. It was proposed that these products should be prohibited the same way as in England.

The U.S. examined about 20,000 cows last year for the possibility of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. This number has tripled compared to the number from the previous year but as for Europe, they test 20,000 cows a day and the Japanese market examines every single cow in the market.

If anyone is apprehensive about eating beef, it would be better to avoid parts with bones, such as T-bone steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage but rather enjoy whole pieces without any bone.

Eun-Taek Hong euntack@donga.com