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Myth and Science: Mad Cow and Wasting Disease

Can my dog get them from pet foods?

By: Shirley Greene 09/2004


Have you been reading the papers?  Watching the national news?  Listening to talk radio?  If so, chances are you’ve been exposed to the term Mad Cow Disease.  First in Great Britain, then in Canada and most recently a cow in Washington State, the scare - - if not the actual disease - - has spread.

We know it is possible for a variant of Mad Cow Disease to be passed to humans through meat consumption.  What about our pets?  Are they also in danger?

Whether feeding a premium brand kibble, or hypoallergenic proteins of venison or elk, dog owners are curious: 

  • Can my dog get mad cow disease from kibble?
  • Can raw beef, bones or hooves expose my dog to Mad Cow Disease?
  • Does cooking beef, rather than feeding it raw, protect my dog?
  • Is it okay to feed deer and elk meats?

Let’s take a look at Mad Cow Disease and what the experts have to say.

What Is Mad Cow Disease?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease is a transmissible, slowly progressive, degenerative disease having an extremely long incubation period - - some experts quote three (3) to nine (9) years.  Affecting the central nervous system of cattle, signs can include excessive salivation, staggering gait and weight loss.  The animal usually dies within six months of becoming symptomatic.

NOTE:  This means there is a very long period where an animal is infected but does not appear ill.

BSE is caused by an abnormal version of a protein called a prion, which is scientific shorthand for proteinaceous infectious particle.

The BSE found in cattle can be passed to humans through contaminated meat and has been named Variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (vCJD).

BSE is just one of the diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs). 

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies:

TSEs are neurological diseases pathologists have characterized by the tiny holes they inflict in brain tissue.  When viewed under a microscope, they make the brain look like a sponge.

In addition to BSE, other TSEs or prion diseases are:

In Animals:

 Scrappie in sheep
 Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer and elk
 Transmissible Mink Encephalopathy (TME) in mink
 Feline Spongiform Encephalopathy (FSE) in cats*

* TSE in Cats:

Unfortunately, cats can contract prion disease.   FSE has been diagnosed in cats from Britain and France.  Close to 100 cases have been confirmed in domestic cats and another 25 or so in captive wild Felidae.  The supposition is that the big cats in captivity were fed contaminated meat, while there remains uncertainty as to whether any of the domestic cats were fed a commercial cat food exclusively. 

Author Ann Martin states that veterinarians she has spoken with in the UK suspect that hundreds or perhaps even thousands of cats died but that the cases went unreported due to the fact that cats go off some place to die and/or owners did not have necropsies performed.

* The FDA reports no known cases of FSE in cats within the United States.

In People:

 CJD   Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease and its variant (vCJD)
 GSS    Gerstmann Straussler Schenker Syndrome
 FFI    Fatal Familial Insomnia
 Kuru    From cannibalism

Although signs of infection may not become evident for years, due to the extremely long incubation period, these TSEs are always fatal, too. 

Prions are to blame:

Currently, the nature of the transmission agent in TSE diseases is not understood.  Several theories exist and the one most accepted is that the responsible agent is a modified form of a cell surface component known as a “prion protein”. 

In its pathogenic form, this “normally occurring” protein causes TSEs.  Stanley B. Prusiner, M.D., a professor of neurology and biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology in 1997 for his discovery that prions are a class of infectious, self-reproducing protein agents.  Knowing how normal prion proteins change to produce disease remains a mystery.  It is very interesting to note that a prion has no DNA or RNA, making it extremely difficult to study.  Articles by Dr. Prusiner on the discovery of prion diseases can be found in the journals Science (1997) and Scientific American (1995).

Heating, boiling, cooking, freezing, ionizing, radiating, autoclaving, sterilizing, bleaching or even using formaldehyde cannot kill prions.  Scary, huh?

The most effective way to stop the spread of prion diseases, per the USDA and FDA, is through early identification and removal of any diseased cattle from the human food chain. 

Let’s first look at beef intended for our consumption, and how prion disease has affected it’s processing, and then we’ll focus on beef and those beef byproducts that are ingredients in our pets’ foods.

Human Consumption of Beef Products:

Mad Cow Disease was first implicated as causing vCJD in humans in the mid-1980s in Great Britain.  The mode of transmission appears to be that infected animals were processed as cattle-feed and then fed to other cattle that were then consumed by people.  The BSE prion mutated and appeared in humans as vCJD.

There are limited portions of the steer carcass thought to carry the offending prion.  They are the brain, spinal cord and other nervous system tissues.  These are referred to as specified risk materials (SRMs) by the FDA, USDA and meat packers. 

BSE infectivity in cattle tissue is:

Brain   64.1%
Spinal Cord  25.6%
All other tissue <1.0%

Muscle meats, experts state, should be safe for human consumption, even if they are from an infected steer.  That said, no meat products from countries shown as having BSE or being at risk for it are permitted for importation into the American market. 

While the USDA tells us that muscle tissue is safe, killing methods in slaughterhouses and the possible contamination of brain and central nervous tissue into other tissues during mechanical meat recovery make the countries of the European Union uneasy.  Therefore, the EU banned all mechanically recovered meats (MRM) for human or domestic animal feed. 

In America, this ban on MRMs is scheduled for implementation only in products intended for human consumption, starting in mid to late July 2004, reported MSNBC on July 10, 2004.  Excerpts follow:

“As of July 10, 2004, six months after the first report case of Mad Cow Disease found within the United States, the FDA banned the use of some high-risk meat in foods and cosmetics.  The new rule only mirrors a regulation put in place by the Department of Agriculture in January, 2004 banning the use of “specified risk materials” in human food, dietary supplements and cosmetics, as well as the use of cattle that cannot walk and mechanically separated beef. 

The Consumer Federation of America was extremely disappointed that the FDA did not take action on rules and regulations proposed back in January 2004 but instead called for “further comment.”  This prompted Jean Halloran, Director of the Consumer Policy Institute to say: “They are actually spinning their wheels backwards.”

Milk and other cattle products:

Milk and milk products, even from BSE infected cows, or from the 31+ countries now identified as having BSE or being at risk, are allowed into the USA, as dairy products have not been shown, in laboratories, to cause TSE infections in the same or in other test animals.

The bottom line from government agencies is that striated muscle meats such as steaks, roasts and ground beef, together with fat, bone and milk are not infective, because they are not believed to contain [enough of] the BSE-causing prions and therefore are assumed safe for people, even if the source cattle were found to be infected.

I don’t see dead people from BSE.
But, I Do See Missing Checks and Balances:

Since the discovery of infected cows first in Great Britain, then in Canada and now one (or possible more) within the United States, the USDA has announced implementation of some new safeguards.   These safeguards fall far short of those called for by consumer groups and scientists.  (See below.)

One of particular interest to pet owners is:

No longer allowing meat from downer animals – animals unable to walk – into our human food supply.  These animals are called 4D for dead, dying, diseased and disabled.

 However, 4D animals can still be used in commercial pet foods and feed for poultry and swine.

Restrictions have also been placed on slaughter and processing methods to increase the likelihood tissue from the nervous system of the cow does not end up in meat products.  I don’t know about you, but I’d personally prefer the phrase “positively prevent”.

New and better methods of tracking cattle have also been proposed and debated.   Final determinations on tracking and record keeping requirements, like many other ideas, are still “pending” before various groups and committees within the USDA. 

I cannot help but ponder:

  • With the incredible long incubation period that occurs before symptoms appear, what happens if (or when) a BSE infected steer is slaughtered prior to being unable to walk? 
  • What happens when a rancher slaughters his own cattle and sells the meat directly to consumers?
    What happens when “organic” or “grain fed only” really isn’t true? 
  • What happens when there is an accidental brain or spinal cord contamination in the slaughtering or packaging process? How is it detected?
  • Who is planning for these “Murphy’s Law” events?   Where are the checks and balances?

Recently, the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) proposed the following recommendations to our government to better protect the public against vCJD:

  • Ban the use of animal derived livestock feeds for any species, given the likelihood that animal byproducts will be recycled to ruminants (cows, sheep and goats).
  • Ban the slaughter of downed animals and animals too sick to stand on their own for human foods.  (This recommendation was accepted and is part of upcoming implementation procedures due by August 2004.)
  • Prohibit all animal byproducts in all medicines, supplements and cosmetics.  (Only specified risk materials were banned.)
  • Label all food containing animal byproducts (e.g. gelatin or natural flavorings) to indicate both the presence of animal byproducts and the species of origin.
  • Provide warning labels on all foods that carry a risk of vCJD using standards similar to those for tobacco and alcohol products.
  • Institute a comprehensive monitoring program to check for diseased animals and humans within the USA.  Monitoring programs for BSE and other encephalopathies in animals should include, but not be limited to, testing ALL suspect animals, rather than just a fraction of them, and holding back the carcasses of tested animals from the food supply until those results are known. 
  • For humans, monitoring programs should be implemented that require ALL states to report CJD cases and dementias of unknown cause (especially in young people) to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) so that any cases where vCJD is suspected can be confirmed or dismissed through autopsy.

No one addressed the issue of banning or testing for BSE contaminated beef or beef byproducts entering the pet food supply chain.

 “Can my dog get BSE or another TSE from eating kibble, hooves or raw hide?”

In a word, the general consensus of the international scientific community is a resounding “NO.”  For reasons unknown, dogs appear to be immune to prion diseases.  Cats, however, are not so lucky. 

Many animal experts recommend that any dog food containing beef or beef byproducts be kept away from felines, even though there is no reason to believe that BSE is present in American dog foods.

The FDA states: “There is no evidence to date that dogs can contract BSE or any similar disease and there is further no evidence that dogs can transmit the disease to humans.  With the exception of cats, no pets are known to be able to contract Mad Cow Disease.”

Scientists at Medi-Cal Pet Foods state:  “In contrast to cats in the UK and France, there have been no disease reported in either cats or dogs in North America.  The absence of BSE-type diseases in dogs is interesting and may indicate a genetic resistance or species-barrier to this disease in dogs.”

In May 2004, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) learned 1,300 bags of dog food were to be recalled by a manufacturer due to the possibility that the food contained beef and meat by-products that may have come from a BSE infected steer.  Even though dogs cannot contract mad cow disease, the worry was that the dog food could accidentally be mixed into cattle or other animal feeds, which could then spread the disease.

The CFIA issued a statement that said, in part:  “We wish to remind livestock producers not to mix dog food into cattle or other animal feeds.  There is no scientific evidence that dogs can contract BSE or any similar disease.   (N)or is there any evidence that humans can contract the disease through physical contact with the dry pet food.”

Alfonso Torres, Associate Dean at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, says: “There is no evidence that dogs have ever gotten the disease and there is no evidence that cats will contract the disease under normal circumstances.”

An author of two books about feeding our dogs, Ann Martin, would disagree.  She cites a case where Reuters European Business unearthed a 1991 study on the brains of 444 dead hunting hounds that suggested some of the animals had developed the first signs of a Spongiform disease.  Further necropsies were not performed.  Ms. Martin also cites a 1997 case wherein a Golden Retriever in Norway died from BSE-related brain damage and quotes Eivind Liven, Director of Norway’s Animal Health Board, as telling the press that: “the dog had most likely contracted the prion disease from eating contaminated dog food.”

Note: I was personally unable to confirm these instances.

Federal regulators go on to state:  “There’s no reason to worry about pets getting sick from pet food and no evidence to suggest any tainted meat has made its way into the pet food supply.  There’s never, ever been a reported case of a dog getting it.”

Stephen Sundlof, Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA says: “Some animals declared unfit for people can be used in pet food.  But, they must be processed in such a way that they are deemed safe for the pets.  This generally means that the food must be heat-treated or the animal-derived parts must be rendered to destroy any pathogens.”

(Excuse, me, Mr. Sundlof, but didn’t we just learn that prions are not destroyed by heat?)

Dr. Neils Pedersen, a specialist in feline infectious diseases at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California at Davis, says: “It would be highly unlikely that nervous tissue would end up even in pet food.  It’s one of those products that is as vigorously inspected and quality-controlled as canned tuna.  In the United States, pet food is closely inspected for quality and safety, in part because some of it ends up eaten by humans.”  Dr. Pederson is also the Director of both the Center for Companion Animal Health and the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

Since 1997, the US has banned feeding cattle, sheep and goats any food that contains the brain or spinal cord material from other livestock. The FDA asked for comments when it considered issuing a ban on using cattle brain and spinal tissues in food for dogs, cats, pigs and poultry.  However, the American government has not banned the use of these tissues in pet food or foods for non-livestock and as of July 2004, their final decision remained “pending.”

Dr. Pedersen was also asked:  “Could dogs contract BSE from chewing on rawhide toys or cows’ hooves?” 

He answered: “Again, that is highly, highly, unlikely.  First, these particular tissues (skin and hooves) contain extremely low levels of prions, even if they came from an infected cow and would therefore not be very infectious even in the worst-case scenario.  Second, dogs appear to be resistant* to the bovine prion disease.  Third, except for the recent case, cattle in the US had not had problems with BSE, greatly decreasing the likelihood of chews being contaminated.”

*Note:  Dr. Pedersen said “resistant” and not “immune.”

There are virtually no Federal regulations having an independent checks and balance system impacting the choice, selection or quality of ingredients used in commercial pet foods today.

Many veterinarians and scientists have recommended keeping dog food containing beef or any beef byproducts away from cats and from humans, both of whom may contract prion disease, based upon the old adage that an ounce of prevention is certainly worth the possibility of contracting a disease with no cure.

Ben Jones, President of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that meat and bone meal should be avoided altogether in any dog food products where there is the possibility of access by cats or kids. 

Should I feed deer or elk meat to my dog?

That’s another question that has people scratching their heads.  Most experts agree that dogs should be no more susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a prion disease found in some deer and elk populations, than they are to BSE.

Chronic Wasting Disease is unique to North America and has been found in wild deer and elk and in captive deer and elk herds.   It was first identified as a fatal wasting syndrome in captive mule deer in the late 1960’s in a governmental research facility in Colorado and later was identified in mule deer in another research facility in Wyoming about 1978.  It was first recognized in wild populations of elk and deer about 1981.

There are specific geographic areas of infection including, but not limited to, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Colorado.  However deer and elk with CWD have also been discovered in New Mexico, Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan and Alberta.  You can keep track of the progression of CWD throughout the United States and Canada on many websites dedicated to hunting and outdoor activities, as well as various state departments of game and wildlife.

CWD is probably transmitted through animal-to-animal contact, dam to fetus and/or contamination of feed or water with saliva, urine or feces.  However, no one knows for certain whether soil and water serve as hosts for the disease and if so, for how long prions can remain infective in these mediums. 

Like BSE, CWD has a long incubation period and typically takes at least 16 months for an infected animal to show signs of illness.  Symptoms of CWD include weight loss over weeks or months, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, difficulty swallowing, increased thirst and urination, head tremors or convulsions.  CWD is always fatal.

Although CWD does not appear to occur naturally outside the cervid family, it has been transmitted experimentally by injection into a number of laboratory animals including mice, ferrets, mink, squirrel monkeys and goats.  However, it did not spread to cattle when they were orally challenged in laboratory conditions.

Currently, there is no indication that CWD is a threat to domestic animals and there have been no reports of CWD in dogs or in cats.  There is ongoing research and, to date, there are no confirmed human neurological diseases linked to CWD at this time.  Therefore, many scientists and veterinarians believe it is safe to feed venison and elk to your dogs, cats and family.

That being said, you should be informed that there is wide debate about a series of deaths that occurred in people who hunted deer and elk both in known endemic areas and outside those areas.   Of fifty persons identified as eating deer and elk at  “wild game feasts” in a cabin owned by one of the decedents, two reportedly died of CJD and another died from another form of neurological disease.  One decedent had only participated in the feasts on a single occasion.  There are many interesting cases in the medical journals and scientists are looking for a variant or atypical type of neurological prion disease to explain these deaths. 

Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that the risk, if any, of transmission of CWD to humans is low, they do recommend that hunters minimize exposure to the CWD prion by:

  • Consulting with state wildlife agencies to identify areas where CWD occurs.
  • Following the advice provided by public health and wildlife agencies.
  • Avoiding eating meat from deer and elk that may look sick or test positive for CWD.
  • Wearing gloves when field-dressing the carcasses and boning-out the meat and minimize handling of brain and any spinal cord or other neurological tissues.

As a precaution, hunters should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent, such as brain, spinal cord, eyes, tonsils and lymph nodes.  Some tissues thought to be negative for the infective agent include liver, bone marrow, skeletal muscle and skin.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, interviewed one of their local hunters, Kevin McCabe.  He was in a quandary about what to do with 250 pounds of venison found to be positive for CWD following testing by the processing plant where he’d left the deer.  Although he had field-dressed the animal himself, had he really been careful enough to risk his family’s health?
The story continued that after much consideration, he decided he’d probably just eat the meat himself.  His children vetoed that idea.  So, he considered turning the 250 pounds of venison into dog food.  Prior to bringing part of the meat home, Mr. McCabe consulted his wife, a veterinarian.  She told him in no uncertain terms to keep the venison off their property – period. 

Well known chef and cookbook author, Sara Dickerman, says:  " Until I know more, venison from New Zealand, where every animal is tested and there's not been a single case of CWD, seems more appealing—and possibly safer—than home grown from the United States.

I’d like to know how the processing plant properly disposed of that venison.  How do you safely get rid of CWD contaminated meat when no one knows whether those disease-causing prions remain in the soil?  And, if they do, for how long and can the deer and elk get sick from the soil, alone, rather than from other animals?

Folks often allow their dogs to chew on antlers. Now, that may be something you want to research and rethink, or perhaps discuss with your veterinarian health care provider.  Although it is thought to be extremely unlikely that your dogs could ever become ill, could those antlers possibly contaminate fresh soil, thus exposing greater numbers of the cervid family to infection?


I don’t have many answers.  The more I read, research and e-mail and phone various scientists, the more I find myself concentrating on the “loophole” words and phrases, such as: highly unlikely, perhaps, maybe, possible, probable, documented, nearly, estimated and my favorite -  “appears but not scientifically proven, so we’ll just say undocumented.”

Overwhelmingly, scientists believe our human and dogs’ food supply chain is safe from BSE and CWD, well, except in very rare instances.  And, in those cases, it is the humans, not our dogs, who are not guaranteed 100% safety. 

Other than those anecdotes reported by Ann Martin, I have found no documented cases of prion disease in dogs.

If I owned a kitty, or had children, I’d make certain there was no pet food containing beef or beef byproducts or beef meal in my home.  I’d follow the recommendations of Ben Jones. 

If I had venison or elk meat in my freezer, I’d call my local Department of Public Health and ask how to safely and permanently dispose of it.  Perhaps you’d come to a different conclusion.

Each of us must make informed decisions for the well being of our families and our pets.  For me, these decisions will be based upon: 

  • Periodically checking the websites of the FDA, USDA, CDC, CFIA for updated information.
  • Looking for articles by the Pet Food Institute and Association of American Feed Control Officials to review the latest facts, figures and research. 
  • Recommendations from my local Department of Public Health and Fish and Game Department for up to the minute information, so that I may personally assess risk factors in my area. 
  • Snooping around to find out what consumers unions, my local food co-op and holistic food distributors in my area are saying and recommending.   Our food co-op often plays host to a wide variety of speakers on the topic of food safety.  Everything from irradiated foods to genetically altered grains has been discussed.  I’m going to get on their e-mail list.
  • An ongoing dialogue with my veterinarian regarding what foods he recommends as safe and asking for his updated opinions on BSE and CWD.
  • If you ever notice any abnormal neurological symptoms in your cat, immediately consult a veterinarian and if the cat dies, request a necropsy to rule out FSE within the United States.

Recently, a friend who feeds raw beef to her dogs organized friends into a food-buying co-op for pet owners.  They contacted a local rancher who sells organic-certified beef and contracted to purchase scraps and bones on a regular basis, reducing not only their individual costs but their collective worries.

The jury is out on BSE and CWD.  More is unknown than is certain.  Knowledge is power; update yours often.


Information for this article has come from a variety of sources.  These include, but are not limited to:

· Alfonso Torres, Assoc. Dean, Cornell Univ. College of Vet. Med., quoted in 2004 AP articles.
· Protect Your Pets NewSage Press, 2001/Food Pets Die For, NewSage Press, 2003: Ann Martin, author.
· Pet Food Institute, quoted in The Hartford Courant, 12/31/03.
· Cornell Univ. quotes to
· United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  - bulletin on BSE 5-26-03
· American Feed Industry Association (AFIA)
· Medi-Cal Pet Foods brochures on BSE Infection
· CNN Mad Cow: How Afraid Should You Be? 1-8-04
· United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
· Center for Disease Control (CDC) Website and Infectious Disease Information Bulletins
· Emerging Infectious Disease (CWD) June 2004, Vol.10, No. 6: Chronic Wasting Disease and Potential Transmission to Humans.
· Dr. Neils Pederson, Director of both the Center of Companion Animal Heath and the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, of the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis. at:
· Stephen Sundlof, Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA, quoted in brochure from the Three Dog Bakery
· Canada: Technical Bulletin 8_12: “Mad Cow Disease:  Are Our Pets In Danger.”  Distributed by Buckeye Pet Foods
· Whole Dog Journal, Vol. 7, No. 4, Page 25: Don’t Eat The Dog’s Food, by Nancy Kerns.
· Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine – Prion Fact Sheet and Recommendations
· Foster, PR. Prions and blood products.  Ann. Med. 2000, 32:501-13.
· Chemistry.Org and American Chemical Association – Chemistry Goes To The Dogs, by Nancy McGuire/4-5-2004
· Erie Government Health Information – Chronic Wasting Disease
· Nebraska Game and Parks Commission: 11-7-2003
· Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morb.Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 2003:52: 125-7.
· Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA):  BSE in North America – Questions & Answers, 2004
· Seattle Times, December 29, 2003:  More Questions and Answers re Mad Cow Disease by Judith Blake.
· Patricia Schenck, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Nutritionist, quoted on
· FDA Delays Tougher Rules on Mad Cow, MSNBC by Jon Bonne, July 10, 2004.
· National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center – Case Western Reserve University, Division of Neuropathology.

July 26, 2004
All rights reserved.  No portion of this article may be reproduced, for any purpose, without the written permission of the author.

*** Add Oct. 16th, 2004***

The FDA has amended a bulletin (99B-14) that contains a listing of countries that have BSE.  They have now banned the importation of any products from these countries that contain ruminant materials wtihin importated human food products and nutritional supplments from the BSE-affected or at-risk countries.
The countries are:


UNITED KINGDOM (Great Britain including Northern Ireland, and Falkland Islands) (GB)  


Any products containing ruminant material such as (but not limited to):
  • Cheese products containing meat of ruminant origin
  • Ruminant meat products
  • Poultry products containing or processed with ruminant products
  • Rennet from ruminant animals
  • Pie fillings containing or processed with ruminant products
  • Multiple ingredient food products (soups, stews, sandwiches, mixed dinners, etc.) containing or processed with ruminant products
  • Baby foods, geriatric foods, and dietary foods containing or processed with ruminant products
  • Vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other dietary supplements that contain or have been processed with ruminant material
  • Food additives (emulsifiers, enzymes, flavor enhancers, etc.) containing or processed with ruminant materials
  • Botanicals containing or processed with ruminant materials
  • Animal by-products and extracts for human use

January 25, 2005 – Author’s Update

I originally researched and wrote this piece in July 2004. Since that time, several significant events have taken place:


FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine

Their most recent bulletin, dated November 4, 2004 explains evaluations of two commercial test kits designed to detect animal proteins in animal feed. Having an on-site testing method is extremely important and immediately relevant because in January 2005 a Canadian cow was discovered that had contracted BSE after their feed ban was in place.


Two Canadian cows have tested positive for BSE in January, 2005

Between January 3 and January 13, 2005, two additional cows have tested positive for BSE in Canada. The first cow, approximately eight years old, was given feed prior to food restriction bans. This case was not unexpected.

The second cow, however, is making headline news in both Canada and, to a lesser degree, the United States, because it was born after restrictions banning the feeding of animal proteins to cattle went into effect.

The infected cow was behaving "fairly normally" before it slipped and injured itself in late December (2004) prompting a call to the local veterinarian, who asked for euthanization and BSE testing as part of Canada’s surveillance system. Tests came back positive for BSE.

Can you believe that feed restrictions, put into place in 1997, said that: "pre-ban feed can still be used until it runs out?" Many Canadian cattlemen estimated that could have taken up to three years.

On January 14, 2005, the Globe and Mail newspaper (Canada) reported that the search for the source of the latest mad cow case had come down to a readily available grain supplement an Alberta farmer bought nearly a year after strict new safeguards were put into place. The farmer, Wilheim Vohs, fed the supplement to 104 animals in his 1998 calf crop. Of that number 34 were used for breeding and the rest wound up in feedlots for slaughter.

The investigation into the contents of the supplement, its manufacturer and the mill selling it remains ongoing.



Ah, politics

Quotes from Alberta’s Premier re BSE

January 14, 2005: Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said: "BSE is overblown; the illness should be renamed BS."

Additional infamous advice given by Ralph Klein to cattlemen in Alberta if they should discover a BSE cow in their herd: "Shoot, shovel and shut up."


Controversy in Canada – Science and Politics

January 13, 2005

"It is a sad state of affairs indeed that forces Canadians to rely on Washington’s assurance that Canadian beef is safe for Americans, and therefore safe for them to eat, too. But, that is the price we pay for our government’s apparent willingness to put economic interests ahead of public health."

Toronto Star Editorial of January 10, 2005:

"As officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency scramble to find out it if was an isolated case of BSE, those three letters could again become a "Bad Sign for our Exports."

On January 20, 2005, an editorial in the Toronto Star newspaper said:

"Both Canada and the United States are relying on a feed ban to stop mad cow disease, but the effectiveness of the ban can be gauged only if there is widespread, comprehensive testing of cattle. No one knows yet how this young cow was infected or whether the ban was violated somehow."

To address the threat in cattle feed, the Canadian government has proposed a tighter ban on ruminant materials that would bar so-called specified risk materials from being used for ANY animal feed or in fertilizer. The highest risk cattle materials would be entirely out of circulation, although such things as blood, milk, gelatin and rendered fat could still be turned into feed for chickens and pigs

The editorial went on to call for "Canadian and American cattle tested rigorously for the presence of mad cow disease."


United States announces plans to reopen the border for Canadian beef cattle

The United States Department of Agriculture announced that the ban on live Canadian beef cattle under thirty months old will be lifted on March 7, 2005. Resolve to stick with this timetable, despite two additional cases of BSE in Canadian cattle in 2005, has led to vigorous objections by American cattle producers.


The United Stockgrowers of America –vs- USDA

Lawsuit filed January 10, 2005

On January 10, 2005 the group known as R-Calif., USA (R-Calif. United Stockgrowers of America) filed a federal lawsuit challenging the USDA’s Final Rule on reopening the Canadian border to live cattle younger than 30 months and beef products from animals of all ages.

This lawsuit lists approximately seventy allegations aimed at proving that the USDA is being "arbitrary and capricious and abusing its discretion in failing to consider relevant information or response to public comments."

Plaintiffs are asking the court to force the USDA to:

"revise and seriously reconsider its determination that opening the US border to Canadian cattle and meat would present little risk to US animals, human consumers and the livestock industry with the United States."

For a complete transcript of the complaint go to:


United States Economics

Not only are American cattlemen upset because of public health reasons, they are trying to prevent what they believe could become an economic disaster if the ban on Canadian beef is lifted.

While Canadian beef was banned, American producers had a smaller base of competition along with increased demand. The discovery of two more Alberta cows infected with BSE just weeks before the ban is supposed to be lifted has given a scientific boost to their economic argument.

American beef producers believe that Japan is much less likely to lift its ban on United States beef when the United States allows Canadian cattle imports. The only BSE positive cow found within the United States hailed from Canada.


United States Senate Agriculture Committee hearings

The United States Senate Agriculture Committee has scheduled meetings to begin on February 3, 2005, regarding whether beef trade restrictions with Canada should be lifted, as planned, on March 7, 2005.


And, back to dog food and my views

Currently, in the United States, no regulations exist regarding the content of dog food. Yet, it is a known that feed lots serve dog food to cattle.

Perhaps rules, regulations and regular testing for foods intended for canine consumption are needed not so much to protect dogs, who appear to be resistant or immune to BSE, but to protect the American beef industry and consumers.

The more information that I glean regarding BSE, the more it seems that action that should be based in science is influenced by politics and economics. So many factions have an agenda and there are powerful lobbying groups on both sides of the border.

Who is looking out for the consumer? How much confidence can Canadians muster when the Premier of Alberta recommends: "shoot, shovel and shut up?" Why must a lawsuit be filed in order to have Senate hearings and the USDA reconsider its dates for lifting the Canadian beef ban?

Can science and reasonable minds prevail in setting a responsible course of action that lessens the possibility of a BSE outbreak in North America?

Stay tuned.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Infectious Agent Linked to Mad Cow Disease Found in Organs Other Than the Brain
Prions, infectious proteins associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease, were previously thought to accumulate mainly in the brain, but Yale and University of Zurich researchers report in Science that other organs can also become infected.

New Haven, Connecticut - Past research had shown that the brain and spinal cord bear the highest infection risk for BSE, followed by organs such as the spleen, lymph nodes and tonsils. All other organs were thought to be devoid of prions.

Ruddle and co-authors analyzed three organ systems that are typically free of prions: liver, pancreas and kidney, in five different mouse models of chronic inflammation. After the mice were infected with prions, the team detected prion accumulation in the inflamed organs. They concluded that the spectrum of organs containing prions might be considerably increased in situations of chronic inflammation.

"The study suggests that the current prion risk-classification of farm animal organs may need to be reassessed in animals suffering from inflammation due to microbial infection or autoimmune disease," said Nancy H. Ruddle, the John Rodman Paul Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine.

Previous research in Adriano Aguzzi's group at the Institute of Neuropathology at University of Zurich showed that B cells are essential for the spread of prions to organs other than the brain. B cells are found in lymphoid organs in healthy humans and animals, but they can migrate into non-lymphoid organs under inflammatory circumstances.

Other researchers on the study include first author Mathias Heikenwalder, Nicolas Zeller, Harald Seeger, Marco Prinz, Peter-Christian Klohn, Petra Schwarz, Charles Weissman and the director of the study, Adriano Aguzzi.

Ruddle's portion of this study was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant CA 16885.

Source: Science, Online Publication: January 20, 2005. Print Publication: February 18, 2005.

 update added April 15, 2005

Researcher finds link between contaminated food, Alzheimer's

The notion that Alzheimer's, Creutzelf-Jakob, and Mad Cow disease may be caused by the consumption of meat and dairy products has, up to now, been pretty much dismissed by the medical research community but an article written by Lawrence Broxmeyer, M.D. of Med-America Research, is beginning to turn heads.

"The possibility of the age-related re-emergence of food borne Mycobacterium bovis (bovine tuberculosis) as a vector for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD or human Mad Cow Disease) and Mad Cow disease itself is very real," Broxmeyer said.

Broxmeyer's article, "Thinking the Unthinkable: Alzheimer's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Mad Cow disease - the age-related re-emergence of virulent, food borne, bovine tuberculosis, or losing your mind for the sake of a shake or burger," is a well-documented research study that is just now getting the attention it deserves partly as a result of a report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported last May of an outbreak of CJD linked to the consumption of meat contaminated "with the agent causing" bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) at a New Jersey racetrack between the time frame 1995-2004.

In the opinion of experts, ample justification now exists for considering a similar pathogenesis for Alzheimer's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and the other spongiform encephalopathies such as Mad Cow disease.

In fact, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Alzheimer's often coexist and at this point are thought to differ merely by time-dependent physical changes. A recent study links up to 13% of all Alzheimer's victims as really having Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

According to Broxmeyer, Bovine tuberculosis, which includes Mycobacterium bovis and M. avium-intracellulare or paratuberculosis, is and has always been the most prevalent threat to the cattle industry, and the USDA reports that between 20% and 40% of US dairy herds are infected with paratuberculosis alone.

The health risk for milk tainted with M. bovis has been known for decades and there was a time not so long ago when ¿tuberculin-tested¿ was printed on every milk container.

"Schliesser stated that meat from tuberculous animals may also constitute a significant risk of infection. At the turn of the 20th century 25% of the many US deaths from TB in adults were caused by M. bovis," Broxmeyer said.

"Dairy products aside, current research shows that when past and present meat consumption are factored in, there is three times the risk of developing Alzheimer's in meat eaters as opposed to vegetarians.
The investigation into the causal trail for Creutzfeldt-Jakob, indistinguishable from Alzheimer's except for its shorter, lethal course migh might have grown cold where it not for Roel's and others who linked mad cow in cattle with M. bovis and related paratuberculosis on clinical, pathologic and epidemiological grounds. The southwest of the UK, the very cradle of British BSE and CJD outbreutbreaks, saw an exponential increase in bovine tuberculosis just prior to its spongiform outbreaks," Broxmeyer said.

"All of this brings up the unthinkable: that Alzheimer's, Cruetzfeldt-Jackob, and Mad Cow disease might just be caused by eating the meat or dairy in consumer products or feed. "It is only appropriate therefore to explore the role of bovine TB and the atypical mycobacteria in Alzheimer's, JCD and Mad Cow disease and develop better serological surveillance for these pathogens," Broxmeyer said.

Broxmeyer believes it's time Congress take a proactive interest in additional research. "In the interest of public health, it's high time our Congressional leaders take an interest in funding additional research."

Broxmeyer, an internist researcher, is currently working in conjunction with several large laboratory research centers in San Francisco and Nebraska on a novel technique to kill mycobacteria presently offering resistance to known antibiotics by a novel technique using the bacteriophage.
His ongoing research can be found at He can also be contacted by phone at (718) 746-5793.


May 11, 2005

Mad Cow Confirmed in Canada

Officials Sunday confirmed Alberta's second case of BSE; Americans say they are not ready to reopen border.

As the United States moves forward with plans to reopen the border to Canadian beef, some say the industry is not yet ready. The Montana Stockgrowers Association joins Senators Conrad Burns and Max Baucus in denouncing the decision to begin importing Canadian beef in March.

Canadian officials Sunday confirmed an Alberta dairy cow, born in 1996, tested positive for mad cow disease.

The U.S. banned Canadian beef imports since mad cow was first reported in Alberta in 2003.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it has confidence in Canadian measures to protect the beef supply.

But U.S. stock growers and Montana senators say nothing has been done to correct market imbalances that began with the first case of mad cow in 2003.

And they say, Canada still puts animal byproducts in its cattle feed.

Senator Baucus says this week he will meet with the president’s nominee for the USDA, Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns.

Baucus wants the new agriculture secretary to use science as a guide before allowing Canadian beef to reenter the U.S.


This is not a regulatory instrument or a regulatory proposal; it is provided as an information guide. The applicable regulatory requirements are those established by the United States.

U.S. Food & Drug Administration

  • Prior notice of shipments of live food animals, animal feed (including pet food) and feed ingredients and additives must be provided electronically to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prior to arrival at the border.
  • Feed lots for live animals and animal feed (pet food) processors of products destined to the United States must be registered with the Food and Drug Administration prior to exporting.
  • Further information concerning Prior Notice and Registration is available on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web Site (

U.S. Department of Agriculture


U.S. Final Rule December 29, 2004 to be implemented March 7, 2005

(temporarily delayed by legal proceedings)



Live ruminants for immediate slaughter or for feeding for slaughterCattle/bison under 30 months and sheep/goats less than 12 months allowed for immediate slaughter or for feeding and subsequent slaughter; Extensive export certification and sealing of vehicles required.

(See Appendix A)

Live ruminants for breeding purposesNo ruminants other than camelids and cervids allowed for breeding purposes.
Ruminant SemenNot restricted.
Ruminant embryosNot in Rule (current policy continues to apply -bovines unrestricted; caprine and ovine prohibited)
Live cervids (deer, elk etc.) and Camelids (llamas, alpacas etc.)
No longer prohibited - no import restrictions relative to BSE. Standard sanitary requirements applicable for other diseases
(No mention of chronic wasting disease crossing the border from Canada.  SHIRL)

Export Certificate required.

Live ruminants for temporary stay (e.g. fairs, rodeos)Canadian ruminants other than cervids and camelids prohibited.
Live ruminants imported for medical use, scientific research or zoological collectionsNo provision in Rule - prohibited
Live ruminants carrying an animal pathogen for research and testingNo provision in Rule - prohibited




Animal Products and By-Products (includes meat and meat products)

Edible meat from bovines of Canadian origin for human consumptionAllows imports of bovine meat products (bone-in/boneless) derived from bovines under 30 months and meeting establishment segregation requirements1
Beef liversAllows edible and inedible beef livers from animals of all ages
Processed meat products containing ruminant meat imported from Canada and/or from CFIA recognized BSE free countriesProcessed meat products are included in the definition of meat food products and are allowed with the same certification as for the relative ruminant meat1 (derived from bovines under 30 months and meeting establishment segregation requirements)
Inedible meat from bovine animals for manufacture of pet food and pharmaceuticalsIs defined as offal and is allowed under the same conditions as for edible meat from bovines1 (derived from bovines under 30 months and meeting establishment segregation requirements)
Edible meat from sheep and goats for human consumptionAllowed provided that:
  • animals subjected to feed ban
  • slaughtered at facility dedicated to slaughter of sheep and /or goats less than 12 months of age or complies with a segregation program approved by authority of the exporting country
  • animals did not test positive for and were not suspect for TSE
  • animals not from a flock diagnosed positive for BSE
  • animal not subject to movement restrictions due to TSE
Commercial shipments of edible meat from arctic ruminants for human consumption (derived from caribou, reindeer or musk ox)Exempted from BSE related restrictions in the case of cervid. Clarification of status of meat derived from musk ox under discussion with USDA.
Inedible meat from sheep and goats for manufacture of pet food and pharmaceuticalsIs allowed as inedible offal, under the same conditions as for edible meat from sheep and goats
Meat from cervidsNo restrictions (certificate for inedible cervid offal that states cervids have not been in a BSE region)
Trans-shipment of ruminant meat and meat products imported from third countries to Canada via USANo changes in Rule. Meat & meat products from third country may transit at air or sea ports. It may only transit overland if eligible to enter U.S. Transit permit required.
Food containing insignificant amount of Bovidae (sheep, goat, beef) meatUnder discussion with FDA. Not in Rule.

Same requirements apply as for meat (soup mixes, products less than 3%, 2% meat)1 (derived from bovines under 30 months and meeting establishment segregation requirements)

Bovidae meat and meat (sheep, goat, beef) products carried by travelers for personal consumptionNot allowed.
Meat products delivered just in time and directly to cruise ships in Canadian portsNo change, not in Rule

Specific requirements are under discussion with USDA

Meat products kept on a ship as ship’s storesNo change, not in Rule.
Natural salted sheep casingsAllowed provided derived from sheep less that 12 months of age and were subject to feed ban
Animal food and ingredients for animal food (includes blood)No change in Rule - ruminant ingredients not permitted.
Commercially prepared pet foodNo change in Rule
Fertilizers and ingredients for fertilizersNo change in Rule
ManureNo change in Rule - prohibited unless by policy change, e. g. cervid/camelid manure.
Specified risk materialsSpecified risk materials as defined under USDA-FSIS requirements are prohibited.
Products of a rendering plantNo change in Rule- Ruminant product prohibited.
Milk and milk derivativesNo change in Rule - not prohibited
Tallow and derivativesProtein free tallow now allowed according to OIE standards plus minor other certification1 (derived from bovines under 30 months and meeting establishment segregation requirements). Under discussion with USDA.
Finished pet chewsNo change in Rule - ruminant products prohibited.
Things from bones and tissues subjected to rigorous processes of extraction and purificationNo provision in Rule for this specialized commodity - remains prohibited.
Hides, skins, wool and derivativesNo provision in Rule - hides and skins exempted. Hide derived gelatin remains eligible with import permit and certification.
Household garbage, aircraft garbage and ship’s refuse
No provision in Rule -exempted since May 2003
(Note: some cattle fed with plate scraps.)
Things carrying an animal pathogenNo provision in Rule for this specialized commodity.
Things for medical use, scientific research or zoological collectionNo provision in Rule - no exemptions for ruminants of this nature.
Commercially prepared pet food destined for the importer’s pets own consumptionNo provision in Rule. Pet food for personal use will not be exempted by policy.
Bone derived gelatinRule allows gelatin from bovine bones with restrictions and certification1 (derived from bovines under 30 months and meeting establishment segregation requirements)
Animal food for sled dog races (includes inedible ruminant meat scraps and pet food)Allowed under a ‘’Research import permit’‘

  1. Federal Register, Vol 70, No. 47, March 11, 2005, derived from bovines under 30 months (UTM) if:
    • air-injected stunning is not used
    • SRM removed at slaughter (small intestine and lingual tonsils from bovines less than 30 months
    • animals subjected to feed ban

    Establishments exporting under thirty month (UTM) beef may now process over thirty month (OTM) beef in the same establishment provided they meet appropriate segregation requirements

This is not a regulatory instrument.

Final Version: 19 July 2005



Third rare brain disease death

September 29, 2005

TEST results confirm a rare brain-wasting illness similar to mad cow disease claimed the life of a 53 year-old northern Idaho woman earlier this month, state health officials said.

The results bring to three the number of confirmed cases this year in Idaho of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, an incurable illness involving a malformed protein that kills brain cells.

Idaho officials believe a naturally occurring form of the disease is responsible for the three cases and may be involved in an additional four deaths this year.

Further testing is under way to rule out variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, considered the human form of mad cow disease and linked to eating beef from infected cattle.

The naturally occurring form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, whose cause is unknown and which is not contagious, typically is found at an annual rate of one case per million Americans.

Jan. 6, 2006


Defense against mad cow `falls woefully short,' experts say
By Libby Quaid
Associated Press writer

WASHINGTON -- Researchers and the nation's No. 1 burger seller say the government is not fully protecting animals or people from mad cow disease.

Stronger steps are needed to keep infection from entering the food chain for cattle, the critics wrote in comments to the Food and Drug Administration.

The group includes McDonald's Corp., seven scientists and experts and a pharmaceutical supplier, Serologicals Corp.

The government proposed new safeguards two months ago, but researchers said that effort "falls woefully short" and would continue to let cattle eat potentially infected feed, the primary way mad cow disease is spread.

"We do not feel that we can overstate the dangers from the insidious threat from these diseases and the need to control and arrest them to prevent any possibility of spread," the researchers wrote.

McDonald's said the risk of exposure to the disease should be reduced to zero, or as close as possible. "It is our opinion that the government can take further action to reduce this risk," wrote company Vice President Dick Crawford.

In people, eating meat or cattle products contaminated with mad cow disease is linked to a rare but fatal nerve disorder, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

No one is known to have contracted the disease in the United States. The disease has turned up in two people who lived in the U.S., but it's believed they were infected in the United Kingdom during an outbreak there in the 1980s and 1990s.

The U.S. has found two cases of mad cow disease in cows. Since the first case, confirmed in December 2003 in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state, the government has tested more than half a million of the nation's 95 million cows. The second case was confirmed last June in a Texas-born cow.

"While this surveillance has not uncovered an epidemic, it does not clear the U.S. cattle herd from infection," the researchers said.

The primary firewall against mad cow disease is a ban on using cattle remains in cattle feed, which the U.S. put in place in 1997. However, the feed ban has loopholes that create potential pathways for mad cow disease. For example, using restaurant plate waste is allowed in cattle feed.

The Food and Drug Administration proposed in October to tighten the rules, but critics said glaring loopholes would remain.

The FDA, which regulates animal feed, accepted public comments on the proposal through last month. An agency spokeswoman said Wednesday it would be inappropriate to respond to those comments.

The critics said their biggest concern is that tissue from dead animals would be allowed in the feed chain if brains and spinal cords have been removed. Brains and spinal cords are tissues that can carry mad cow disease.

In dead cattle that had the disease, infection had spread beyond brains and spinal cords. Leaving tissue from dead cattle in the feed chain would negate FDA's attempt to strengthen its safeguards, the critics said.

The most effective safeguards, they said, would be to:

--Ban from animal feed all tissues considered "specified risk materials" by the Agriculture Department, which requires that such materials be removed from meat that people eat. This includes tissues beyond the brain and spinal cord, such as eyes or part of the small intestine.

--Ban the use of dead cattle in animal feed.

--Close loopholes allowing plate waste, poultry litter and blood to be fed back to cattle.

Within the meat industry, many say the FDA proposal is effective, although some companies contend new rules are unneeded. The American Meat Institute Foundation, which represents meat processing companies, backs the FDA proposal.

"To take out the most potentially infected material, and that would be brains and spinal cords, that removes about 90 percent of the potential infectivity that is in an animal -- if it's infected," said Jim Hodges, AMI Foundation president.

Mad cow disease is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, a degenerative nerve disease in cattle.
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