Some Americans fear contracting BSE

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 28, 2005
by WLJ
A recent survey indicates that some U.S. consumers are starting to show some hesitancy when it comes to both purchasing and eating beef due to fears that they could contract the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
According to a Harvard School of Public Health survey, 16 percent of Americans have stopped ordering beef at fast food restaurants, 14 percent have stopped browsing the beef section in the grocery store and 27 percent think the human form of BSE has infected someone in the U.S.
“Perception is the biggest problem,” said Jim Lamb, a BYU-Idaho Animal Science professor. “There has never been a case in the United States that originated in the U.S.”
BSE attacks the central nervous system of an animal, causing it to slowly deteriorate. In humans the disease is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and has similar symptoms. To catch the disease one would have to eat infected tissue. In animals and human beings, the symptoms usually do not show for many years.
“The problem is that it takes a while to develop,” Lamb said. “A cow could have it for five years before any problems appear.”
With the number of reported cases rising, the United States Drug Association released a list of countries that had a minimal-risk of spreading the disease to the U.S. at the end of 2004.
Among those on the lists was Canada, which recently confirmed two other cases of BSE since the beginning of the year.
“It (the list) places Canada in the minimal-risk category,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a press release. “We remain very confident that the public health measures that Canada has in place to prevent the spread of BSE provides the protection to U.S. consumers and livestock.”
During the 1980s, widespread BSE cases became a problem in the United Kingdom and the out-break is still affecting people in various countries.
There have been reported 143 cases of people contracting the disease in the United Kingdom, according to worldwide interviews. A Japanese man who died of the disease recently is believed to have contracted it while in Britain during the 1980s.
“I made several trips to England while on my mission during the time that BSE was coming around,” Lamb said. “When I go to give blood, they ask questions about when I was there, and sometimes I can’t give blood. They are being very careful.”
Steps are now being taken to keep potentially infected animals out of America. Random samples from cows are sent to labs for testing and any animal that shows the smallest symptom of BSE is removed from the market.
With new procedures and checks being enforced by the USDA and other organizations, Lamb believes BSE and vCJD do not pose an extreme threat to the United States. — WLJ