MAD COW DISEASE TRANSMISSIBLE TO HUMANS VIA MEAT
JHTSAO at UGA.CC.UGA.EDU
Tue Jul 22 23:55:03 EST 1997
From: JHTSAO at UGA.CC.UGA.EDU (jhtsao)
Subject: MAD COW DISEASE TRANSMISSIBLE TO HUMANS VIA MEAT
Message-ID: <17BAEF23DS86.JHTSAO at UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>
Date: Thu, 17 Jul 97 17:13:33 EDT
Organization: University of Georgia
Keywords: BSE, TSE, CREUTZFELDT-JAKOB, KURU, MADCOW
The following article appeared in Flagpole Magazine, Athens, GA, on July 2,
1997, and is used by permission. Flagpole Magazine's Website is: www.flagpole.
com --E-mail: flagpole at negia.net Used by permission of the editor.
"Modern Cannibalism" by Maureen McGinley Forget Clive Barker, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. The most horrifying book
of the year is a non-fiction account of the uncovering of a new form of disease
about which you need to learn.
Part of my motivation in writing this column is to get you readers to think
more critically about the stuff that you eat. There are certain basic ques-
tions that are worth asking about food. Who raised this? What part of the
world did it come from? How was it grown? What was it fed? There are some
new possible answers about meat in general and beef in particular in the book
I just read that are deeply disturbing.
The name of the book is _Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying
New Plague._ Its author, Richard Rhodes, won a Pulitzer Prize for his last book
on the making of the atomic bomb. In this one, he tracks the development of a
new class of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), which
includes kuru in New Guinea, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, scrapie in sheep,
transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME), and bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE), a.k.a. mad cow disease.
All of the TSE types share some interesting features. They are one hundred
percent fatal. They share many of the same traits as Alzheimer's and A.L.S.,
except that they are transmitted through food rather than genetically. Their
distinguishing characteristic is the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain.
These plaques, which show up on tissue samples when stained with Congo red dye,
visually remind me of bad spots on peaches. There is no "Patient Zero," or
single case to which all other cases may be traced back, as is the case with
Ebola and other diseases. The incubation period, if it may be called that,
can be up to 40 years in humans.
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are not spread by germs or viruses
like normal diseases. Instead, the agents of transmission are crystalline in
nature. Some scientists refer to these things as prions. Prions are unique
cellular disease units because there is no known way of destroying them.
Tissue samples which were preserved in formaldehyde have been liquefied and
and injected into animals, which then came down with the disease. Samples
have also been baked in an oven at 350 degrees until they were reduced to ash
and injected with the same results.
Scariest of all, TSE has no inter-species transmission barrier. This means
that if a cow is fed on bone and blood meal, which contains ground up mink,
monkeys, cats, dogs, sheep or other cows that have died from TSE, then that
cow could come down with the disease as well. If that cow is then turned into
hamburger and eaten by humans, sometime in the next 40 years, the human brains
may turn into sponges from TSE. Also, if the humans fertilize their roses with
bone meal and happen to inhale while doing so, or put manure from infected
animals on their vegetables, the same thing could happen.
Richard Rhodes does a masterful job of outlining the developments in the
research done in this area. He starts out describing the culture of the Fore,
a tribe of Papua New Guinea, whose women and children (and sometimes men) ate
their dead. Some villages ended up consisting entirely of men. From there, he
traces the line through efforts to find a cure for scrapie, a lethal sheep
disease, in Britain, TME in mink in Colorado, BSE in cattle in Britain and the
U.S., and finally Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which killed 12 young people in
Britain. His description of the political battles over CJD are almost comic.
In France, many cows came down with "tractor disease," where farmers would bury
cows who had died of BSE, so that they would not have to destroy their herds.
Blood and bone meal was hurriedly exported both legally and illegally from
Britain to feed European livestock in a dizzying dance of bureaucratic illogi-
Since I read this book, I have heard about a woman who died of
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in California, and a ban on feeding imported bone
and blood meal to U.S. cattle. Government officials are, of course, saying
that it can't happen here. In his final book of the _2001: A Space Odyssey_
series, Arthur Clarke kills off most of the earth's population with CJD.
Humans are the most idiotic of creatures at times. Like the Fore, who took
to eating human remains because they asked the question, "Why should we waste
this good meat?," we force livestock and other animals to become cannibals
by feeding the ground-up remains of their own kind. It should come as little
surprise that disastrous consequences are now occurring. Once again, Nature
is trying to teach us the same old lesson: You cross the line, you pay the
(C) Flagpole Magazine, 1997
More information about the Bioforum