It's unfortunate that locally in the Sacramento and Davis regional area, UC-Davis couldn't positively say whether a dead cow had BSE -- mad cow disease. The tissue had to be sent to a USDA lab in Iowa for the government to finally give a positive diagnosis of mad cow disease in the California diary cow.
The carcass of the dairy cow with mad cow disease is presently being held at a processing facility near Hanford, according to an April 25, 2012, Sacramento Bee article, "Mad cow disease found at Central California dairy." Handlers relocated the cow carcass from an undisclosed dairy in Central California to the Baker Commodities transfer station east of Hanford.
What gave the cow the disease? Newspaper reports don't even say what happened to the carcass. Out of sheer random luck, the renderer thought to test the dead cow for BSE.
Researchers diagnosed the cow with a rare form of BSE, usually not contracted from feed. Perhaps the cow was born with the disease. But from where did the cow inherit the prions?
And luckily, someone took the time to have the tissue tested twice when the first diagnosis turned out to be inconclusive. On the second examination, the USDA finally diagnosed the cow positive with a rare form of mad cow disease -- BSE, before the meat ended up as pet food.
All the public has been told is that the California dairy cow that has been diagnosed with mad cow disease was already dead and on its way to be turned into pet food when it was diagnosed. See the April 24, 2012, Washington Post article, Mad cow disease discovered in California animal, but food supply declared safe.
The question now is where did the cow catch the disease? What did it eat? And did other animals share the food such as chickens, goats, sheep, or fish? What happened to all the milk it gave before it showed obvious symptoms? Researchers diagnosed the cow with a rare form of BSE, usually not contracted from feed. Perhaps the cow was born with the disease. But from where did it inherit the prions?
Prion-caused bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
The dairy cow is the first American case of BSE since 2006, according to the Washington Post article. The animal died before it could be officially slaughtered for food, according to government officials. The medical term for madad cow disease is prion-caused bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Back in the 1980s and 1990s BSE felled English cattle herds and was linked to about 225 cases worldwide of a fatal human brain aliment known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
The question is how did the cow get to California and where did it catch the disease? The USDA saw only three previous cases of BSE. Government officials note that no cases of the human version of the disease have been linked to U.S. beef.
Now there's an issue of animals from that farm born the same time as the dead cow. Those animals will also have to be slaughtered. Will the meat of those animals end up in pet food or be cremated?
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials didn't reveal the location of the farm or the size of its herd. So the public has no way of knowing which brand of milk or dairy products is linked to the farm with the dead cow. You can check out government reports saying the usual, that the American beef and dairy industry is safe.
Monitoring is limited
All USDA can do is remain on watch. The government has no way of knowing or saying whether any other U.S. animals have the disease.
What safeguards are in practice if one slipped through the cracks already, even though the beef never entered the food chain? What about the milk? The issue remains focused on the limited monitoring ability of the USDA due to not enough staff, funds, and resources for increased monitoring services. All cows are not tested, only thousands out of millions.
When a cow gets BSE, the disease begins to infect the animal as soon as its born. It takes years for the prion to work its way along the nervous system of the animal before symptoms arise that are noticeable. First the government needs to find out the animal's age. It's up to the USDA to investigate.
If you follow the route of the dead cow with BSE, the animal had been taken by a renderer, not ground up for burgers. By chance, the renderer had done random testing for BSE disease and sure enough, found it. Baker Commodities picked up the dead cow.
UC Davis & USDA examined the cow's tissues
University of California, Davis now has samples of the diseased cow's tissue. But the first time around UC Davis gave a report of inconclusive for BSE. Then the samples luckily were sent for a second round of checking to a USDA lab in Iowa. The final results from the USDA were positive for BSE.
Sure, BSE is rare, three cases diagnosed plus this latest one in the last decade. But what good is a low rate if even one diseased cow makes it way into the dairy or beef food chain?
The government doesn't test all cows, only 40,000 of them. What about the cows never tested? Are there more cases in U.S. beef that never were found? There isn't enough money to have a larger monitoring system.
So out of millions of cows ground into burgers or the milk turned into dairy products, no one really knows whether there ever were more than those three or four cows with BSE. It's a toss-up of random chance, since all cows are not tested. All the more reason to enjoy plant foods for a change.
The European Mad Cow epidemic started with cattle feed containing diseased animals
The European epidemic started from cows eating feed containing the dried up brains and nervers of other animals infected with BSE. Nobody tested the cows that were turned into feed.
Feed supplemented with meat and bones from specific animals is now banned. But how many people used bone meal for gardening and breathed in the bone dust before the ban? Years ago, supermarkets used to sell calf brains. Today, there's a ban on cattle brain and spinal cord for human food. But nothing goes to waste when there's pet food to be packaged.
Butchers are told not to mix nerve tissue with other parts of the meat, but does any nerve tissue fall through the cracks and get mixed in with other meat that is sold to humans? What about humans handling pet foods or sharing their plates with pets?
Meanwhile, the diseased cow had a rare type of L-type BSE, not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed. On the other hand, contaminated feed is the only known way a cow can catch the disease. What did the cow eat and when? BSE is a prion protein, not a virus or bacteria.
The big dilemma is that you don't want a diseased prion protein entering the brain of a human or animal. Now the question remains whether BSE can arise by itself and not from contaminated feed. So far, scientists have not seen any cases, at least there are no records.
It leaves people wondering whether they should switch to meatless days and nondairy milk substitutes. And are goats safer, for those using goat milk for babies? All scientists can do for the moment is keep investigating.