AVMA says mad cow disease won’t hurt public

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

SCHAUMBERG, Illinois––University of San
Francisco researchers led by Dr. Stanley Pruisiner reported
on April 22 that they have discovered how disease-carrying
agents called prions replicate, a key step toward finding a
way to fight scrapie, a fatal brain disease of sheep and
goats, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), bet-
ter known as “mad cow disease.” More than 100,000
British cattle have been destroyed due to BSE since 1986,
while isolated cases have appeared in seven other nations.
The spring 1994 Farm Sanctuary newsletter
meanwhile asserted that “At least two British dairy farmers
whose cows had BSE, and who had been drinking milk
from their herds, died from CJD, the human counterpart to
mad cow disease…There is evidence to suggest that BSE
has existed in the United States for some time. In 1985,
several thousand mink at a Wisconsin fur farm died of
transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) which was
caused by their diet, primarily ‘downer’ cows. Research
done in the U.S.,” Farm Sanctuary continued, “has linked
BSE with the use of ‘downer’ cows… Scientists are now
concerned that the disease currently referred to by the U.S.
meat and dairy industries as ‘downer cow syndrome’ could
actually be BSE.”

Quoting an unidentified USDA source, Farm
Sanctuary claimed “75% of ‘downer’ cows pass inspection
for human consumption,” and then charged that, “The
human health implications of consuming meat from BSE-
infected cattle could be staggering, but this impact will not
be realized for decades. The incubation time for CJD can
extend up to 30 years, and shows symptoms similar to
Alzheimer’s disease. According to a recent University of
Pittsburgh study, some of the four million people in the
U.S. suffering from Alzheimer’s disease may actually be
infected with the agent that causes CJD. And that raises
this question: Has an unrecognized form of BSE infected
U.S. cattle and entered the human food chain?”
Either Farm Sanctuary had the medical scoop of
the decade, or something was garbled. After asking Farm
Sanctuary for documentation and not receiving any, ANI-
MAL PEOPLE referred the allegations to Franklin Loew,
dean of the Tufts University School of Veterinary
Medicine, and John Boyce, assistant director of scientific
activities for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“BSE has never been diagnosed in the U.S.,”
Loew said. He was cautiously skeptical about the rest of
the Farm Sanctuary hypothesis. “It c o u l d be a serious
issue––but not the end of the world as we know it,” he
advised. “It bears watching.”
Boyce responded with a 1,500-word critique pre-
pared by an AVMA staff expert. Among the key points:
Farm Sanctuary confused several unrelated
transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, a class of dis-
ease with similar symptoms but differing causes. “The
agent of CJD is different from that of BSE and scrapie,”
Boyce explained.
Stating that BSE is transmitted by eating an
infected animal is an extreme oversimplification. A change
in the chemical process of rendering during the 1970s may
have permitted a prion transfer from sheep to cattle via
manufactured high-protein feed supplements, Boyce said,
“in circumstances that somehow broke a species barrier that
had apparently resisted less severe natural challenges for
more than 200 years.” These unique circumstances do not
occur in the slaughter and consumption of meat.
“It is true that CJD was diagnosed in two indi-
viduals occupationally exposed to BSE,” Boyce stated.
“One dairy farmer had one BSE-infected cow, and the
other had three cases of BSE in his herd. About 120,000
individuals work in dairy farming in England and Wales.
The cases of CJD more likely occurred by chance.”
No U.S. research has ever linked BSE to down-
er cattle, there have never been any U.S. cases to study,
and a decade-old theory that an unidentified transmissible
spongiform encephalopathy may cause “downer syndrome”
has largely been discredited.
In short, eating meat isn’t healthy, but probably
doesn’t cause this particular kind of brain-rot.
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