Facts about Mad Cow Disease

"Mad Cow Disease" is the nickname for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE. A recent case of BSE in Washington has spawned a host of scary news stories, most of them high in shock value and low in useful consumer information. We will do our best to answer your questions and keep you informed with the facts as they relate to you, right here in Tony's eNews.

There is no risk of BSE in the meats you buy at Tony's.
The animal tested positive for BSE was a Holstein, or a dairy cow, that was born in Canada and sold to a US farm before the first Canadian case of BSE. The meat of a Holstein is of the lowest quality. At the end of their milking career, dairy cattle are used to make inexpensive hamburger destined for bulk use in areas such as fast foods, restaurants, institutions, grocery stores and shopping clubs. At Tony's we do not ever buy ground beef, rather we grind fresh in small batches daily from from our in house trimmings of Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska beef.

Can Humans Contract BSE?
Eating neurological tissue (brain and spinal cord tissue) from an infected animal may cause variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), a neurological disorder similar to classic CJD. Although beef brains are classified as food and contain neurological tissue, they are rarely consumed in the U.S. and are not used as an ingredient in any domestic food products. Only 84 cases of vCJD have been diagnosed in the U.K. since 1986. These figures show how rare the disease is, and lend support to the theory that contracting vCJD may require a combination of exposure to BSE and a genetic predisposition to vCJD.

What Foods Could Present a Risk?
Although beef brains are classified as food and contain neurological tissue, they are rarely consumed in the U.S. and are not used as an ingredient in any domestic food products - but for many of us that is just not enough! If you are still concerned, we suggest avoiding any ground or processed meats from bulk and unknown sources. While we can vouch for the meats we grind at Tony's, it's hard to say exactly where that sale priced tube of ground meat, that bargain-basement box of frozen patties, nationally distributed sausages, or that fast food burger came from.

The sale of bulk commodity meats and processed foods are driven by consumer demand for low price - which means larger processing facilities cranking out mass quantities of foods at the lowest price possible - a recipe for potential problems.

Our Thoughts
To serve your family the highest quality, safest, and most heathful meals, we suggest avoiding mass produced and processed foods. Rather, purchase foods as close to the source as possible. This means fresh vegetables, local baked goods, artisan cheeses and lunchmeats, packaged foods from small and/or local producers, and meats from a butcher you can trust.

BSE (Mad Cow) is an animal health issue, not a human health issue and a triple firewall protection system is in place to assure it never becomes so. Neither of the dairy cows found to have BSE in Canada ever reached the food supply.

The two Holstein dairy cows that tested positive were born back in 1996 and fed contaminated grain before new feed regulations were put in place. Dairy cows produce milk for many years and spend most of their live eating feed. When they get too old they are processed into inexpensive bulk ground beef. In contrast, quality beef cattle are range fed on grass until they are about 18 months old; then most are fed grain for several weeks to increase internal marbling.

To contract Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD the human form of mad cow documented in Britain), beef brains or neurological tissue must be consumed. For years now there have been laws to keep neurological tissue out of the food chain and all animal feed.

The sheer nature of bulk processed meats and foods are a big part of the problem. No matter how careful, if you produce a million pounds of hamburger, sausages or TV dinners a week and ship it all over the country, you run the potential to distribute disease in bulk.

If you are still concerned, limit your potential exposure to neurological tissue. Avoid bulk ground meats, bulk frozen patties, bulk restaurant ground beef, fast food, bulk-produced sausages, bulk processed foods (such as TV dinners), as well as the ground meat and sausages used in schools and institutions.

How is the Government Protecting Us?
The U.S. utilizes a "triple firewall" strategy. First, the U.S. protects its borders. Since 1989, the USDA banned the import of cattle from countries with BSE. Canadian beef was banned immediately after a case was diagnosed in January 2003. Second, the U.S. conducts vigilant surveillance in factories. USDA veterinarians are stationed at every U.S. meat packing plant and check cattle for signs of any disease, including BSE. No animal can be processed for meat without a veterinary inspection. If cattle show any symptoms that could possible indicate BSE, they are removed from the plant and tested. Of the 12,000 animals tested for BSE by the U.S. government, none have tested positive for BSE. Third, the U.S. controls what cattle eat. The U.S. prohibits feeding any protein derived from ruminant animals (cow, sheep, goat or deer) to cattle. Expect even more safety steps from the USDA in the following months.

More information can be had at these links to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the US Food and Drug Administration, the World Heath Organization, and Britain's Food Standards Agency.