Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) recently introduced a bill in the House of Representatives which would permanently ban downed animals — animals which fall and cannot get up under their own power — from entering the food supply.
After a cow in the United States tested positive for Mad Cow Disease in 2003, a temporary ban on the slaughter of downed animals for food was put into place by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
The bill would require that any downed animals be immediately and humanely euthanized and adds that,
It shall be unlawful for an inspector at an establishment to pass through inspection any nonambulatory livestock or carcass (including parts of a carcass) of nonambulatory livestock.
The USDA would be given one year from passage of the bill into law to promulgate regulations for the humane slaughter of downed animals and their exclusion from the food supply.
The full text of the bill can be read here.
British medical journal, The Lancet, published the results of a small-scale French study into the transmissibility of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The results confirm what the evidence and computer models have already implied — that the risk of transmission of BSE from animals to humans in the form of vCJD is very low. The small size of the study, however, do limit the ability to extrapolate from the study.
Researchers took two adult macaque monkeys and exposed them to five grams of brain tissue from a BSE-infected cow. After five years, one of the macaques developed symptoms of a vCJD-like disease while the other macaque remains health and symptom-free.
The French researchers suggest that in order to have a sizable risk of infection, and individual would have to eat about 3.3 pounds of meat from an infected cow. Since current slaughterhouse regulations in the UK and elsewhere are able to detect BSE-infected meat when it hits a threshhold slight less than that from an infected cow, the French research suggests that such existing regulations are well tuned to prevent further such infections.
The researchers also suggest that the incubation period for BSE in humans could be, on average, greater than 50 years, which would explain why so few people have died from vCJD despite presumably widespread exposure to BSE-infected beef in the UK. Other studies have suggested that the vCJD incubation period may, on average, be significantly longer than current human lifespans.
The vCJD epidemic appears to have peaked in Great Britain. Where 18 people died from vCJD in 2003, only 9 people succumbed to the disease in 2004 and there are only five additional suspected cases of the disease in Great Britain.
Study optimism on mad-cow disease. News.Com.Au, January 27, 2005.
Risk of oral infection with bovine spongiform encephalopathy agent in primates. Corinne Ida LasmÃ©zas, et al., The Lancet, January 27, 2005.
Lets take a look at where the United Kingdom is in its vCJD breakout, usually ascribed to the transmission of Mad Cow Disease.
In 2004, the number of people who died from vCJD continued to decline. A total of 9 people died from vCJD in 2004, compared to 18 deaths in 2003.
So far, a total of 148 people have died from vCJD and there are currently 5 people alive who are believed to be suffering from vCJD.
How many more people are likely to die from vCJD? An Imperial College London study released in January suggests that about 70 more people in Great Britain will become ill with vCJD.
Thousands of people likely harbor the defective prions, but for a variety of reasons will never exhibit symptoms of the disease in their lifetimes. Only about 40 percent of the British population has the specific genetic makeup that makes them susceptible to the disease. Moreover even in those susceptible to the disease, for most the incubation period will last longer than their lifespan.
UK Department of Health, Monthly Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Statistics, Press Release 2005/0009, January 10, 2005.
Thousands of Britons may carry vCJD. James Reynolds, The Scotsman, January 12, 2005.
United Kingdom Health officials announced this month that they will warn people who received blood transfusions from people who later died of vCJD that they may be at risk of the disease as well.
The decisions follows on a report earlier this month in the Lancet that documented the second case of transmission of vCJD via blood transfusion. In that case, however, the vCJD infection was found in the spleen and the deceased did not have any symptoms of vCJD.
The Scottish Press Association reported,
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The HPA has carried out a risk assessment exercise, as indicated by the Secretary of State in his December 2003 statement.
“The Department of Health has asked the HPA to lead on preparations for notifying patients who have received plasma products, and we have been working with the Agency, clinician’s representatives and the patient groups on this.”
Blood recipients to get vCJD warning. Scottish Press Association, August 29, 2004.
The California legislature this week approved Senate Bill 1585 which essentially rescinds an agreement between the California Department of Health Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture by requiring that companies notify the state if they sold or received recalled meat or poultry.
Under federal law, recalls of meat and poultry products are voluntary. To that end, the USDA typically keeps the information about the particulars of recalls as confidential. So consumers might learn that a recall of chicken from a poultry producer is under way, but the USDA will not make public a list of stores that were affected by the recall.
That policy caused a controversy in 2002 when the USDA refused to give the California DHS a list of stores effected by a recall of E. coli-infected meat. The state and the USDA entered into an agreement at that time that the USDA would provide the information and in return the DHS would not make the information public.
That agreement in turn created a controversy in December 2003 with a recall of beef prompted by a calf that tested positive fro Mad Cow disease. That recall affected quite a few restaurants and stores in California, but neither DHS nor the USDA would publicly reveal which restaurants and stores were affected.
The new bill would require the stores and restaurants to notify the DHS that they have been the subject of a recall and, in certain types of recalls, would require the DHS to in turn inform the public about the details of the recall.
The bill’s only serious opposition has been from the DHS itself which complains that collecting and publishing data on recalled meat will cost about $400,000/year, but the bill provides no additional funding for this task.
A spokeswoman for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the Sacramento Bee that the governor had not yet taken a position on the bill. The full text of the legislation can be read here.
Mad cow secrecy may end. Jon Ortiz, Sacramento Bee, August 27, 2004.
A report this week in the Lancet raises the possibility that the number of people infected with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — believed to be contracted from exposure to mad cow disease — may be larger than originally thought.
Models that have predicted relatively low total cases rest on a number of assumptions, including that vCJD appeared to infect only a minority of Caucasian with a specific genetic profile. But The Lancet report describes the discovery of vCJD infection in an individual who did not share that specific genetic profile.
The deceased, who died from causes unrelated to vCJD, apparently contracted the disease not from eating infected meat, however, but rather through a blood transfusion from an individual who was infected with vCJD. This is the second known case of transmission of vCJD through blood transfusion.
Second, the deceased’s vCJD infection was located not in the brain or nervous system, but rather in the spleen, explaining why the deceased never developed any symptoms of the disease.
Blood Transfusion Linked to 2nd Human Case of Mad Cow. Mark Kaufman, Washington Post, August 5, 2004.
Mad cow may be more widespread. Emma Ross, Associated Press, August 5, 2004.
Scientists warn Britain of possible ‘mad cow’ disease epidemic. Agence-France Press, August 6, 2004.