From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 40 - December 31, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Wyoming reacts to BSE

by Cat Urbigkit

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease:

Although experience with this new disease is limited, evidence to date indicates that there has never been a case transmitted person to person.

There has never been a case of vCJD that did not have a history of exposure within a country where this cattle disease, BSE, was occurring. It is believed that the persons who have developed vCJD became infected through their consumption of cattle products contaminated with the agent of BSE.

Since 1996, strong evidence has accumulated for a causal relationship between ongoing outbreaks in Europe of disease in cattle called bovine spongiform encephalopathy and a disease in humans originally called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or more recently simply variant CJD (vCJD).

Both disorders are rare, fatal brain diseases with unusually long incubation periods measured in years and are caused by an unconventional transmissible agent. Although there is very strong evidence that the agent responsible for the human disease is the same agent responsible for the BSE outbreaks in cattle, the specific foods that might be associated with the transmission of this agent from cattle to humans are unknown. However, bioassays have identified the presence of the BSE agent in the brain, spinal cord, retina, dorsal root ganglia (nervous tissue located near the backbone), distal ileum, and the bone marrow of cattle experimentally infected with this agent by the oral route.

New variant CJD is a rare, degenerative brain disorder.

The vCJD can be confirmed only through examination of brain tissue obtained by biopsy or at autopsy, but a "probable case" of vCJD can be diagnosed on the basis of clinical criteria developed in the United Kingdom

Wyoming Health Officer Dr. Brent Sherard said in a release that the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy is extremely rare. Sherard said the worldwide incidence of the human form of the illness - variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) - is extremely low, and in fact, only 143 cases of vCJD have been reported in the world - the overwhelming majority from the United Kingdom.

Sherard said almost all the 143 vCJD patients had multiple-year exposures in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996 during the occurrence of a large UK outbreak of among cattle. The incubation period for vCJD is unknown because it is a new disease. However, he said it is likely that ultimately this incubation period will be measured in terms of many years or decades.

Sherard said it is extremely unlikely that BSE would be a food borne hazard in this country. Because the use of ruminant tissue in ruminant feed was probably a necessary factor responsible for the BSE outbreak in the United Kingdom and because of the current evidence for possible transmission of BSE to humans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration instituted a ruminant feed ban in June 1997 that became fully effective as of October 1997. In late 2001, the Harvard Center for Risk Assessment concluded in its study of various scenarios involving BSE in the U.S. that the FDA ruminant feed rule provides a major defense against this disease.

"I feel the meat supply is safe," Sherard said.

Governor Dave Freudenthal said, "Wyoming citizens should be assured that the system to protect America's food supply is working well."

John Etchepare, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, echoed the governor's comments in stating, "The U.S. is responding to this incident with vigilance in protecting both the health of the public and the health of our animals."

This assurance in safety measures comes after participating in a Wednesday morning conference call with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Information conveyed in this meeting included:

The USDA and the FDA are taking actions necessary to protect consumers, the food supply and animal health. Measures such as a meat recall on Vern Moses Lake Meats and a quarantine of the initial contact herd have been instituted.

Current research indicates that the tissues of the highest infectivity are the brain, spinal cord, and distal ileum, which are removed from the carcass at slaughter.

All U.S. cattle are inspected by a federal or state inspector or veterinarian before going to slaughter. Animals with any signs of neurological disorder are tested for BSE.

This case was found in a federally inspected plant. The central nervous system tissue from this animal did not go into the food supply.

Etchepare also stated, "Both the industry and producers in the state of Washington have been very cooperative, and we must all continue to work together on this issue."

"The diagnosis of BSE in one cow in the state of Washington proves the U.S. disease surveillance system is working, resulting in a meat supply that is safe," said Wyoming Beef Council Chairman Irvin Petsch. "Due to the strength of the U.S. system and its ability to prevent the spread of BSE, this is an animal disease story, not a food safety problem," said Petsch, a beef producer and cattle feeder from Meriden. "Consumers should continue to eat beef with complete confidence."

According to WBC, the following safeguards are in place to prevent a repeat of the situation that occurred in Great Britain in the 1990s:

The U.S. banned imports of cattle and bovine products from countries with BSE beginning in 1989.

A surveillance program for BSE was initiated in 1990, making the U.S. the first country in the world without BSE to test cattle for the disease. The surveillance system targets all cattle with any signs of neurological disorder, as well as those over 30 months of age and animals that are non-ambulatory.

The third firewall in the system is a 1997 Food and Drug Administration mandatory ban on feeding ruminant-derived meat and bone meal supplements to cattle. This is the component that will prevent any potential spread of BSE to other animals. BSE does not spread from animal to animal, only through feed sources.

An analysis conducted at Harvard University concluded that while there is a risk of BSE, the U.S. is prepared to prevent the spread of the disease.

WBC Executive Director Ann Wittmann said, "Current science indicates the BSE agent is not found in whole muscle meat, such as steaks and roasts, only in central nervous tissue, which is not commonly consumed in the U.S." It is also important for consumers to understand that BSE does not affect the lactation system. "Therefore milk and milk products are considered safe," said Wittmann.

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