Last updated: September 11, 2019
Topic: Food
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Mad Cow Problems, Solutions, Threats


Mad Cow Disease is a serious problem in every country of the world because it poses a danger to the food supply as well as the health of people.  BSE, first identified in 1986 in the United Kingdom, is a fatal disease that “causes progressive neurological degeneration in cattle. It is one of a family of TSE diseases that cause spongelike gaps to develop in brain tissue.” (“Expanded Plan to Combat Mad Cow Disease,” 2002, p. 51)  The disease can be transferred through the eating of meat of diseased cows and from cow to cow. Past safeguards used to control the spread of the disease have been successful.  The old safeguards against the spread of the disease were called ‘firewalls.’  There are two major firewalls that were first implemented to help corral the disease from spreading.

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The first firewall is the “USDA’s 1989 ban on importing live ruminants and subsequent USDA and FDA import controls over most ruminant products from countries with BSE or considered to he at risk for BSE.” (Bren, 2004, p.28)  Of course, this was just a first step, and did not totally prevent the disease from infecting more livestock.  Obviously a new safeguard was needed because the 1989 procedure was fine as a buffer, but was not effective enough.  The second firewall, “the USDA’s surveillance program to look for BSE in cows, began in 1990.” (Ibid)  These two ‘firewalls’ established varying degrees of investigation into Mad Cow and an attempt to controlling the infections.

The two firewalls implemented by the USDA were working to some degree, but more was needed because outbreaks of the disease were still occurring in different places throughout the world.  The USDA created a program of surveillance, protection, research, and oversight in order to attack the disease from different fronts. (“Expanded Plan to Combat Mad Cow Disease,” 2002, p. 51) Each of these segments of the new plan involve different agencies that will help share the load for containing and eradicating the disease from livestock.  As of now, the FDA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are all working together for the new program. (Ibid)

In addition to the new program, new FDA regulations have been started to help fight the spreading of Mad Cow disease and hopefully make the disease disappear from the livestock altogether.  First, there is a FDA feed rule, which mandates that “mammalian proteins cannot be fed to ruminant animals.” (“FDA Announces Expanded Safeguards against Mad Cow Disease,” 2004, p. 29)  Another part of the FDA measures involves the types of tissue that generally carry the disease to humans.  For example, the FDA “recently announced USDA policies designed to ensure that certain bovine tissues known to have a high risk of carrying the BSE agent do not enter the human food supply regulated by USDA.” (“FDA Announces Expanded Safeguards against Mad Cow Disease,” 2004, p. 29)  This program will help reduce the incidence of human infection of Mad Cow Disease, but will not stop the infection prevalent in livestock.  One question does arise when dealing with the restriction against feeding cattle mammal parts as a portion of their dietary plan, and that is how will any regulatory agency know that the ranchers are indeed following the rules.  In order “to enhance the ability to detect prohibited materials in animal feed, FDA will continue to support the development and evaluation of diagnostic tests to identify prohibited materials.” (Ibid)  Hopefully these testing procedures will be effective and will help create a better environment for beef production.  Mad Cow Disease is a serious problem facing the food supply and is a threat to the health of the human race.  Safeguards established by governmental groups will help prevent the danger from spreading.

Bren, L. (2004, May/June). Agencies Work to Corral Mad Cow Disease. FDA Consumer, 38, 28+.

Expanded Plan to Combat Mad Cow Disease. (2002). Journal of Environmental Health, 64(7), 51+.

FDA Announces Expanded Safeguards against Mad Cow Disease. (2004). Journal of Environmental Health, 66(9), 29.