Mad Cow Disease in Ireland – But Don’t Worry.

A case of Mad Cow Disease has been found in an 18 year old Irish Cow.

But not to worry.

Apparently this happens all the time.

The Irish Department of Agriculture reassures the public that “BSE occurs sporadically in older animals“. And this is supposed to make us feel better?

The animal has been destroyed, it’s carcass incinerated. End of story.

…but not really.

Mad looking cow

What is Mad Cow Disease?

BSE – Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy – commonly known as Mad Cow Disease – is a disease affecting adult cattle.

This rather unpleasant – and ultimately fatal – illness attacks the animal’s brain and nervous system.

What’s even freakier is that it takes a long time to see signs of the disease – often four to six years.

I’m also skeptical as to how often it’s detected. For one thing, it takes a long time for symptoms to appear. And when they do, they are pretty nebulous – clumsiness, disorientation and occasional aggression. How likely is it that these symptoms will be spotted immediately in a factory farm setting?

And more disturbingly, how many farmers would rather just sweep it under the rug than risk having an entire herd culled and setting off an international panic?

Can it be killed through cooking?

The disease is thought to originate with a form of protein called a prion. Because prions are protein and are not “alive” they aren’t destroyed by normal cooking. In order to render prions harmless, meat would have to be reduced to ash. Not very practical.

mad cow disease

Dairy Cows are at the highest risk of developing Mad Cow Disease

Dairy Cattle are at the highest risk

There have also been recent disturbing cases of BSE in very young cows ( 5 years old) meaning they either acquired BSE through their feed, or in utero. Either scenario is unsettling, but the in utero argument particularly so, because it means many undiagnosed cases.

Dairy cows are the greatest concern, as they live the longest and are most at risk for developing BSE. They also are generally ground up for hamburger when the die, because their meat is of poorer quality.

Hamburger is far more likely to transmit Mad Cow Disease to humans, because everything is ground up, and an error in the slaughter process could result in parts of the brain or spinal column making it’s way into the food supply. This is much less likely with whole cuts of meat, like steaks.

Atypical BSE & Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Atypical BSE is thought to only affect about one in a million cows, so it is rather rare. But it can also be more virulent than other forms of the disease.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is the human form of BSE. When a human eats meat contaminated with BSE, they can develop CJD, a degenerative and deadly neurological condition.

Most people are aware that consuming contaminated beef can heighten risk of CJD. But what if beef is not the only source of the disease?

Is Beef consumption the only risk factor for Mad Cow Disease? Or could we get CJD from other animals?

Research indicates that consumption of other meats can also cause CJD. Laws have been passed to prevent feeding cattle carcasses to other cows. But beef from older cows can still be fed to pigs and chickens.

This is because researchers have not proven conclusively that beef is the only source of CJD. What if the prions stay in the food chain much longer? What if pigs fed infected beef can retain those prions and then pass them on to humans through their meat later on.

Bottom Line

I personally believe in eliminating risks when they are unnecessary. I don’t think the risk of Mad Cow Disease is worth eating meat. But that’s just me. I know some people would rather risk CJD than give up their hamburgers. And I get that. But I also think it’s important to know the risk that you’re taking. And as I mentioned in this article, we actually don’t know if beef is the only source of the disease. New research is being done all the time that will hopefully help us to better understand this terrible disease.

I’d personally rather avoid exploiting animals, while simultaneously eliminating my risk of certain diseases. It’s a win-win if ever there was one.

Thanks for watching,

Margaret

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