The first thing to do is to assess the
situation. The situation is that one cow that tested positive was
found in Washington State. This cow was a "downer," meaning it was
crippled in some way, and was taken to be killed at a small kill
facility. The facility did what it was supposed to do, in that it
sent samples for testing on a downer cow. The processing had begun
on the meat, and meat and byproducts were sent out of the kill
facility but not distributed for public consumption.
What is BSE? BSE is a disease that
degenerates the central nervous system of cattle. This means their
coordination is affected, along with changes in temperament (hence
the name mad cow disease). It is caused by a prion, an abnormal form
of a normal protein. In naturally occurring cases, this prion has
been found only in the brain, spinal cord and in the retina of the
eye. In artificially infected cattle, it has also been found in bone
marrow and a few other locations.
BSE is one of a family of TSEs. The "B"
stands for "bovine" (cattle). Other related diseases include scrapie
in sheep and goats, TME in mink, FSE in cats, chronic wasting
disease in deer and elk, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and variant
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans (along with a few others for
humans). Of the human diseases, the variant Creutzfelt-Jakob disease
is the only one that could have a link with BSE.
Several people have asked if they
should quit eating beef. My answer is, "Not if you like beef." If
you have concerns about safety of beef, or other meats, there are a
few things you can do to put your fears to rest.
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First, you can know where your beef
came from. You can purchase beef direct from a local farmer, have it
processed in a local facility and stored in your freezer. That way
you can find out how old the animal was (it generally takes two to
eight years for BSE to incubate), know what the feeding program
included and how the animal was cared for. Most local locker plants
have locally purchased animals that they process for resale as well.
There are some specialty beef programs in Illinois that provide a
lot of security in the above items. Check with local retailers or
lockers to get the type of security you desire.
Second, if you are really concerned,
you can avoid the suspicious parts of beef. The parts to avoid are
brain tissue, spinal tissue and retinas. The actual meat cuts should
cause no problem whatsoever. If you are really worried about ground
beef, buy ground chuck, for example. One source said the biggest
effect would be not eating that little pocket on top of a T-bone
Third, keep things in perspective. The
United States has had one positive cow. The cow is gone, and all the
meat and rendered products have been withheld. The home Canadian
herd has been identified. The U.S. offspring and those in close
contact are being tested and destroyed.
no one wants to take an unnecessary risk -- and you shouldn't. Don't
eat the brain and organ meats (most haven't done that for quite a
while anyway). Outside of that, the likelihood of being hurt in the
parking lot of a grocery store is much greater than having problems
from anything you buy inside.
Fulton, local unit leader,
University of Illinois Extension]