Understanding Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy – or “Mad Cow Disease”: Mad Cow Disease Litigation?

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What is Mad Cow Disease?  By Laila Carter

Outbreaks of “mad cow disease” are rare in the United States. According to the USDA, “the first confirmation of BSE in an animal in Washington State in December 2003.”[1] Sponsor

[Note:  Mad Cow Disease litigation usually follows outbreaks of BSE.]

To avoid the risk of potential contamination, mass recalls of beef-based products ensued the first outbreak in the U.S.

Food Safety Contributor and author Laila Carter
Laila Carter is a contributing editor and studies food safety at Kansas State

The suspected cause of mad cow disease in cattle, also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is an infectious prion. A common misconception is people can get mad cow disease. People cannot get mad cow disease; instead, humans are susceptible Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Both cases are nonetheless related to infections prions.

According to the CDC, the term “prions” refer to “abnormal, pathogenic agents that are transmissible and are able to induce abnormal folding of specific normal cellular proteins called prion proteins that are found most abundantly in the brain.”[2]

The irregular folding prion proteins leads to the fatal degradation of the central nervous system. The CDC reports “prion diseases are usually rapidly progressive and always fatal.”[3]

For humans, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is “a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurodegenerative disorder believed to be caused by an abnormal isoform of a cellular glycoprotein known as the prion protein.”[4] Variant CJD is related to BSE, but it is not “mad cow disease” which occurs in cattle.

In order to determine is the disease is present in American cattle, the United States Department of Agriculture conducts surveillance for BSE. According to the USDA’s BSE Surveillance Information Center, “the longstanding system of interlocking safeguards, including the removal of specified risk materials— the tissues/parts of an animal that would contain BSE like the brain and spinal cord—at slaughter and the FDA’s ruminant-to- ruminant feed ban that protect public and animal health from BSE.”[5]

The USDA is monitoring for the spread of BSE, but food safety parameters at slaughter are keeping consumers safe from exposure to BSE.  Note: There have been a number of food poisoning lawsuits, linked to BSE.

[1] https://www.usda.gov/topics/animals/bse-surveillance-information-center

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/prions/index.html

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/prions/index.html

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/prions/cjd/index.html

[5] https://www.usda.gov/topics/animals/bse-surveillance-information-center


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