Mad Cow Disease

May 26, 2003

May 26, 2003

Mad Cow Disease in Canada. Beef importers around the world, including the U.S., have closed their borders to Canadian beef After Europe went through a devastating costly slaughter of thousands of cattle, and felt their farming economy take a "body blow," costing billions-just hearing the words "Mad Cow" creates hysteria.

Let's take a more rational look at this disease. Mad Cow is more accurately called BSE which stands for three words that I am not even going to try and pronounce. To begin, the disease is a mystery in many respects but we are learning. The outbreak in Europe was horrendous. Still, it appears they were doing some things that probably helped to spread the disease to more cattle. They were feeding cattle and sheep on the protein remains to each other. We don't do that and have not for years. In Europe, nearly 200,000 cattle were diagnosed with the disease. Here in the U.S., we have never had a reported case. Canada has had 2 cases. The first was in the early 90's-an imported cow from England. Now that everyone is on red alert about the diseases, we may very likely find a case here in the U.S. some day. That should not be unexpected. In fact, it should not even be alanning. Researchers suspect that there will be rare cases that pop up naturally no matter what we do. So that you will understand what rare means-it means 1 in a million.

Perhaps the most important point to be made is that BSE in cows, although similar to the rare brain wasting disease in humans, is not the same. Furthermore, one does not necessarily transmit to the other. Only 135 people in the whole world are known to have died from the human brand of the disease. That is not an epidemic. It strikes a tiny unfortunate few.

I am optimistic the diseased Canadian cow will prove to be an isolated case and beef trade will return to normal.

In the mean time, I'll have steak for dinner tonight. Because I am confident that although I might get struck by lightening, I won't get Mad Cow Disease.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.