NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Mad Cow" Fears Overblown

April 20, 2004

Responding to concerns over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow disease," the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is spending $70 million to test an additional 250,000 animals, says Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute. Some advocates claim that organic beef is the only way to go. However:

  • Britain's 180,000 cows diagnosed with BSE were rendered in plants that were too "environmentally friendly" to kill disease-causing pathogens; over 15 years, 150 people died of new-variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.
  • Germany's first case of Mad Cow in 2001 was confirmed at an organic beef processing plant.

In other words, organic beef has just as great a chance of harboring BSE as conventional beef. In Britain's case, the number of people who died may sound daunting, but it is a small number compared to the amount of beef consumed.

Avery confirms that such an outbreak in the United States would be rare, since the FDA has prohibited the use of dead ruminant animals in feed since 1997. Furthermore, the United States has banned the importation of cattle or animals from countries with BSE outbreaks.

Additionally, the fear among trading partners that U.S. beef is contaminated is just a cover-up for beef importers, such as Japan, to keep prices high on their own beef products, says Avery. Moreover, Japan is at greater risk from the feed they have imported from Britain -- 11 of their cattle have now been diagnosed with BSE.

Source: Dennis T. Avery, "BSE Threat is Overblown," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 28, 2004; see also Dennis T. Avery, "Why Mad Cow Won't Claim U.S. Victims," January 8, 2004, Hudson Institute.


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