- WASHINGTON (Reuter) - A stun
gun used on cattle before slaughter can send brain tissue scattering throughout
the animal, which could provide a route for madcow disease to spread to
humans, a consumer group said Thursday.
- There have been no documented cases of madcow disease,
or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in the United States, but the
consumers group said the use of stun guns posed a potentially deadly risk
- "These new discoveries mean that some of the steaks
and hamburgers Amercans eat today may contain small bits of brain matter,"
said David Schardt, nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public
- "Now, since BSE has not been detected here, there
is no known risk at this time. But where BSE does exist in cattle, such
meat with specks of brain tissue in it could be a deadly meal," he
- In an unusual news conference, the Washington-based consumer
watchdog group was joined by meat industry representatives who said they
planned to sponsor a study on stunning methods later in the year.
- "If a problem is found either with stunning in general
or with particular methods or machinery, we will move swiftly to address
it," said Janet Collins, a vice president at the American Meat Institute,
an industry trade group.
- Brain tissue and spinal cord are the most infectious
part of an animal with BSE, which eats deadly holes in an infected animal's
brain. A world panic over beef was triggered after an outbreak of the disease
among British herds in the late 1980s.
- Scientists remain unsure whether madcow disease can be
transmitted to humans, but say they are concerned about an inexplicable
rise in the number of cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, an incurable
brain disease in humans.
- BSE has never been detected in U.S. cattle herds and
federal health officials have erected a series of "firewalls"
against it, including banning feeding ruminant by-products -- parts of
other farm animals -- to cattle, a practice believed to have spread BSE
- Before cattle are slaughtered, they are stunned with
a shot to the head to make them unconscious and to protect workers. Stunning
is required by law so the animal feels no pain when it dies.
- The Center for Science in the Public Interest said recent
research at Texas A&M University and by Canada's Food Inspection Agency
found a method called pneumatic stunning delivered a force so explosive
that it splattered brain tissue throughout a cow's system.
- "Our research shows that it's possible that microscopic
particles of brain matter can be circulated to the lungs, liver and maybe
other sites," Tam Garland, a research veterinarian at Texas A&M
said in CSPI's July newsletter. "The implications are frightening."
- Some 30 to 40 percent of American cattle are stunned
by pneumatic guns, which fire a metal bolt into a cow's brain followed
by a pulverizing burst of 150 pounds of air pressure.
- The method is popular at larger U.S. meat plants because
it renders cattle insensible longer than other techniques, erasing concerns
the animals might revive before they are killed and cause havoc in a long
processing line. Pneumatic guns are not used widely abroad.
- Meat industry officials said they started considering
a study on stunning methods several months ago after learning of the research.
They said they planned to tap U.S. and Canadian government officials for
advice on how to conduct the study and hoped to have results by the end
of the year.
- "No one wants the U.S. to remain BSE free more than
the nation's one million beef producers," said Gary Weber of the National
Cattlemen's Beef Association.