Cow ID?

By: Hermelinda Vargas
By: Hermelinda Vargas

Can you imagine a day when you'd ask a cow to see its ID? That day may be coming sooner than you think. Because of mad cow disease, there's a move to create a national identification system for all animals sold for food.

Many cows are not infected with mad cow disease, but soon they and any other U.S. animal that is sold for human consumption will likely have to wear an electronic version of a tag.

"It's not exactly like going to the supermarket and reading a barcode, but something kind of similar," says Doug Mayo.

The idea of tracking animals' farm origins began as a way to limit the effects of bioterrorism, but the first case of mad cow disease in the U.S. has forced federal regulators to consider it as a better way to trace diseased cows.

Cattle producer Mack Glass says he's only concerned about not being able to pass along some of the extra cost as his cows make it into the food chain, but he says other local cattle producers aren't taking it quite as well.

Then there's also the cost of cows getting skinny waiting to be processed and priced. A skinny cow means lower profit. In any case, no one is complaining too loudly.

President Bush has proposed a $33 million budget item towards the id system and it seems the consumer safeguard may also be a safeguard for the meat industry.

"If we had a disease outbreak right now, we have no way of knowing which animals have been in contact, so we'd have to just quarantine huge areas."

The first phase of the national animal id system will likely be in place by July for cattle, pigs and poultry. Later phases may also include horses and catfish.

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Mad Cow Disease

What is Mad Cow Disease?

  • Mad cow, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a disease found in cattle. Found in humans it is named Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (VCJD).

What is Mad cow (BSE)?

  • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a progressive neurological disorder.

  • The disease can be transmitted between cattle when infected meat is digested by the animal.

  • The disease has now cure in cattle.

Transmission to Humans

  • Although the risk is very small, humans can contract the disease, which is known as VCJD.

  • The disease is fatal and causes brain disorders with unusually long incubation periods measured in years.

  • From 1995 through June 2002, a total of 124 human cases of VCJD were reported in the United Kingdom, 6 cases in France, and 1 case each in Ireland, Italy, and the United States. The case-patients from Ireland and the United States had each lived in the United Kingdom for more than 5 years.

  • Milk and milk products from cows are not believed to pose any risk for transmitting the BSE agent.

  • Staying alert to U.S. government warnings during times of outbreak is very important. The U.S. government will say if avoiding beef all together is necessary.

  • Selecting beef, such as solid pieces of muscle meat (versus calf brains or beef products such as burgers and sausages), which might have a reduced opportunity for contamination with tissues that may harbor the BSE agent.

Symptoms of VCJD

  • The duration of CJD from the onset of symptoms to the inevitable death is usually one year; however, shorter duration periods of several months are common, and longer duration periods of two or more years have been noted.

  • The initial stage of the disease can be subtle with ambiguous symptoms of:
    • Insomnia
    • Depression
    • Confusion
    • Personality and behavioral changes
    • Strange physical sensations
    • Problems with memory, coordination and sight

  • As the disease advances, the patient experiences a rapidly, progressive dementia and in most cases, involuntary and irregular jerking movements known as myoclonus.

  • Problems with language, sight, muscular weakness, and coordination worsen. The patient may appear startled and become rigid.

  • In the final stage of the disease, the patient loses all mental and physical functions. The patient may lapse into a coma and usually dies from an infection like pneumonia precipitated by the bedridden, unconscious state.

Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/fact/cjd.htm (The Center for Disease Control Web site) and http://cjdfoundation.org/CJDInfo.html (The Creutxfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation Web site)


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