- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
only way to assure beef is free of mad cow disease is to test all cattle
for the brain-destroying disease, as Japan does, Nobel Prize winner Stanley
Prusiner said on Tuesday.
- "Only the Japanese solution of testing every slaughtered
cow or bull will eliminate prions from the food supply and restore consumer
confidence," said Prusiner, who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in
1997 for his discovery of prions, the malformed proteins believed responsible
for mad cow disease.
- The Bush administration has said broad-scale testing
is not justified and has focused on safeguards such as banning use of sick
and injured "downer" cattle as human food. The government announced
last month that a case of mad cow had been detected in the U.S.
- Formally named bovine spongiform encephalopathy, mad
cow disease can be spread through consumption of contaminated meat. About
140 people, most of them in Great Britain, have died of the human form
of the illness.
- While U.S. officials have focused on ways to prevent
the spread of mad cow, they fail to appreciate that prions can form spontaneously,
Prusiner told members of the Food Safety Caucus, a bipartisan group in
the House of Representatives.
- Public health expert Glenn Morris, of the University
of Maryland, sent written comments to the caucus that assessed the U.S
risk of mad cow disease as virtually nonexistent. He said the threat from
pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 was much greater. Food-borne diseases
kill 5,000 Americans a year.
- Food-safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal of the consumer
group Center for Science in the Public Interest recommended mad-cow tests
for all cattle over 20 months of age, all animals showing signs of neurological
disorders and all downer cattle at the farm.
- The Agriculture Department says it will test nearly 40,000
cattle for mad cow this year, nearly double last year's tally. Tests are
targeted toward older animals and downers. They are considered to most
at risk of mad cow, which can take years to develop.
- Older cattle account for 16 percent of the roughly 36
million U.S. cattle slaughtered each year.
- Most beef-importing nations banned U.S. beef as soon
as the mad cow case was announced, including Japan, South Korea and Mexico,
the top three customers. U.S. beef exports were worth $3.8 billion in 2003.
- It costs $50 to test each head of cattle for mad cow,
the USDA says, a huge cost if the government were to test all cattle. Congress
allotted $785 million for meat safety work this fiscal year. There are
no reliable tests for live animals.
- "It's scientifically not necessary, not justified
and we don't want to go down that road because it diverts resources from
where we really need to be putting them in doing surveillance and taking
other risk mitigation measures for this disease," USDA trade advisor
David Hegwood said on Monday when asked if the United States should test
beef destined for Japan for mad cow.
- Japan has discovered mad cow in two head of cattle less
than two years old, Prusiner said.
- If mad cow disease appears in cattle at the same rate
as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease , a similar neurological disease that occurs
in humans, "we'd have 150 (mad) cows in one year," he said, before
arguing Americans would be willing to pay a few cents a pound (kilogram)
- "We need to know these animals are negative,"
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