October 21, 2013
Mad Cow: Fact or Fiction?
While Mad Cow disease may seem like an urban legend it, in fact, is a real disease that infects thousands of cows along with people worldwide. The scientific name given to this disease is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE. BSE is fatal; it degrades the nervous and digestive systems in cows over time. On average, 1.5 million of the 12 million cattle in the United Kingdom will be infected with this disease in that span of one year. The first outbreak of mad cow was detected in the U.K the year 1985. This outbreak would eventually cause the mistrust of the meatpacking industry nationwide and even globally. Allowing this disease to become an epidemic, at the time, caused the decrease of meat production because consumers lost all faith and loyalty in the industry. BSE is most commonly caused by the consumption of beef by another cattle; it can also be transmitted from contact with an infected cow. BSE is similar to a disease that humans may be infected with if they practice cannibalism. In humans this will usually only happen based on survival aspects, but what was so shocking about this outbreak was that this disease occurred strictly because of economic reasons. In the 1970s, oil prices began to skyrocket causing many businesses to shut down or reduce their production amount. Just like similar companies, the meatpacking industry in the U.K. had to make some adjustments. They faced the same financial problem of trying to continue to make ends meet when the economy was plummeting so rapidly. The meatpacking plants used high amounts of oil to run their machines and the price bump put them in a place of ruins. They were forced to cut back on some of their normal practices and shift budgets in order to fit the high expense that oil demanded. Until the 1980s, cattle meat was processed with solvents and put through extended heating. This practice ensured high meat quality and safety in eating the meat. Consumers were accustomed to these practices and this allowed them to bestow faith and loyalty in the plants of which they bought their desired meats. This preparing process allowed customers to feel comfortable that they were being given the highest quality of meat. As budgeting was brought into the question and money was tight, many plants had to let go of this process. The decision to get rid of this practice entirely became simple to the managing board of many plants because they believed that it was unnecessary and redundant. The meatpacking plants continued their production and packing of meat without this cleansing step as it was too complicated and an expensive ritual. While no concrete proof has been found, researchers of the University of Alabama, who have studied this case extensively, believe that this process of decontaminating the meat allowed for the killing of prions. Prions are hazardous proteins that are found in almost every mammal, they affect the central nervous system of an animal and eventually causes it to become completely paralyzed. Prions behave much like viruses in the human bodies, except these proteins are not alive and therefore cannot be killed or treated. More and more meat was being processed with these infectious prion cells and the plants were unaware of this. As the production of this infected meat continued, consumers were beginning to see the effects of BSE. In order to spend money more wisely where it was needed, these meatpacking plants decided to invest less money on cattle feed and more on electrical expenses they needed to produce the meat. Cattle were no longer being fed what they were commonly used to, they began to eat whatever scraps farmers could find. Many times these cattle were fed protein from bone meal and meat meal. The farmers were subconsciously feeding them meat from other cattle and meat from sheep. Because the meat was infected with prions, more and more cows began to be affected by the...
Cited: Gaydos, J., Top, F., Hodder, R., & Russell, P. (2006). Swine Influenza Outbreak, Fort Dix, New Jersey, 1976, Retrieved from http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/12/1/05-0965_article.htm
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