How serious is the threat of Mad Cow disease?

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That question can be looked at two ways and the answer would be the same.

If you are a ranch worker out tagging a newborn calf with a mad mother cow breathing down your neck, you may question your safety. And now with the threat of mad cow disease being reported in our meat supply, you undoubtedly are questioning your safety.

On Dec. 9, the nation's first case of mad cow disease was reported and since then has been confirmed. BSE or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a disease that only affects cattle. However there is a similar disease know as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, (CJD), that can be found in humans.

BSE is a disease that progresses slowly and deteriorates the central nervous system. This disease is transmitted to other animals through consumption of feed that contains the mammalian protein from infected rendered animals. However, the FDA has had a feed ban, which restricts the use of rendered animals, that would have been used for ruminant feed.

There is small chance for consumers to contract BSE from cattle produced in the United States. It is not common practice in the United States for the consumer to eat parts of the brain, spinal column or lower intestine.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has restricted the importation of live ruminants, such as cows and sheep, and most food products from these animals from BSE countries since 1989 and from all European countries since 1997.

However, milk products continue to be imported from these countries because milk products do not pose any threat. Tests and studies done by the FDA have shown that milk from BSE-infected cows does not cause BSE in other animals or to humans.

So if you are concerned about contracting BSE, don't be. Go out and order that tasteful, juicy steak. And if you find yourself with a mad mother cow breathing down your neck, then find a tall fence.

For more information on BSE look on the FDA Web site or the USDA Web site.

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