Mad Cow Disease Called International Threat

ROME, Italy, January 29, 2001 (ENS) - The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is warning countries around the world - not just those in Western Europe - about the risk of mad cow disease. The Organization recommends adoption of surveillance and monitoring systems to detect the disease in cattle herds, meat industries and animal feed operations.

Mad cow disease is officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). This disease has been linked to a fatal brain disease in humans called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD).

cattle

British cattle at feeding time (Photo by Ian Britton, courtesy Freefoto.com)
An epidemic of BSE in cattle herds in the United Kingdom has been followed by between 10 to 15 cases of nvCJD occurring each year. Little is known about the actual mechanism for transmission of the disease, but the currently held belief is that the disease agent jumps to humans who eat infected meat products.

Alarm about the disease's potential has been largely confined to Western Europe up to now, but the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has issued its warning to all nations.

All countries which have imported cattle or meat and bone meal from any Western European countries, particularly the United Kingdom, during and since the 1980s, can be considered at risk, the FAO wrote in a release on Friday.

"There is an increasingly grave situation developing in the European Union, with BSE being identified in cattle in several member states of the EU which have, until recently, been regarded as free from the disease," the FAO said. "Confirmed and suspected cases of nvCJD are occurring in people outside the UK, in various member states. More research needs to be conducted into the nature of the agent and its modes of transmission. Much remains unknown about the disease and the infective agent. There is currently no method of diagnosis at early stages of infection and no cure for the disease, neither in animals nor in humans."

The FAO said it supports the European Union's actions to control the disease, including the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of animals. Feeding meat and bone meal to cattle, sheep and goats has been banned in the European Union since July 1994, and last November, the EU proposed extending the ban to chicken and hogs.

sheep

Other animals may also be able spread forms of BSE, the FAO warned, and should not be fed meat and bone meal (Photo courtesy U.S. Agricultural Research Service)
"There is an urgent need to refine the risk assessment and to extend it to other countries and regions," the FAO wrote. "Countries at risk should implement effective surveillance for BSE in cattle and controls on the animal feed and meat industries. At present, this means: laboratory testing of samples from slaughtered cattle, and correct disposal of fallen stock and improved processing of offals and byproducts."

Within countries, FAO recommended applying the so called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system (HACCP) which aims at identifying potential problems and taking corrective measures throughout the food chain. Some of the issues include the production of animal feed, the raw materials used, cross contamination in the feed mill, labeling of manufactured feeds, the feed transport system, as well as monitoring imported live animals, slaughtering methods, the rendering industry and the disposal of waste materials.

"Strict controls have been implemented in the United Kingdom and are now being implemented in the rest of the EU," FAO said. "Countries outside the EU should adopt appropriate measures to protect their herds and to ensure the safety of meat and meat products. Legislation to control the industry and its effective implementation is required, including capacity building and the training of operatives and government officials."

FAO advised countries to adopt a precautionary approach. As an immediate measure, countries which have imported animals and meat and bone meal from BSE infected trading partners should consider a precautionary ban on the feeding of meat and bone meal to cattle, sheep and goats, or, to reduce the risk of infection even further, to all animals.

Attention should be paid to slaughtering procedures and to the processing and use of offal and byproduct parts, FAO said. The rendering industry should be scrutinized and appropriate procedures adopted everywhere, the organization wrote.

goats

Since 1994, the European Union has banned the feeding of meat and bone meal to cattle, sheep and goats (Photo by Larry Rana, courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture)
The FAO, together with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation Internationale des Epizooties (OIE), will hold an expert consultation in the near future to draw up advice for countries, particularly developing countries, to protect their people from nvCJD, their livestock from BSE, and their industries from trade restrictions and their repercussions.

The FAO and WHO are now finalizing work on a 'Code of Practice for Good Animal Feeding' to ensure that animal products do not create risks to consumers.

More details about BSE and nvSJD are available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/cjd/cjd.htm and http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/bse/bse20_en.html

More information about feed safety practices is available at: http://www.fao.org/livestock/AGAP/FRG/Feedsafety/bse.htm