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Another Case of NGO Spongiform Encephalopathy?
Why wait for test results? Why bother with facts? Isn't spreading panic more fun? That appears to the be the attitude of the Consumers Union (CU) regarding a preliminary, so far unconfirmed report that government testing has identified a cow with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) aka "mad cow" disease.

The CU Press Release leads of by stating, "The U.S. Agriculture Department's announcement that it is evaluating another cow to confirm or deny its infection with mad cow disease underscores the need for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to act now to protect the public and for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to test more cows annually..."

Wait a minute. Since when does not knowing whether or not one cow had BSE "underscore" the need for new regulations? Logic says that if you test more cows, you will get more preliminary, and potentially false, positive results. CU's logic seems to be that the more preliminary positives, the more cows you need to test. Thus, if CU's views were to prevail, you would end up in an endless spiral of more tests, more false positives and ever more fearful living.

What makes the CU view more perplexing is that the consumer watchdog group closes its press release by stating, "Even animals that test negative can be silent carriers of this infection...:" Sounds to Winston as if CU is hinting that no regulatory requirement will ever be sufficiently stringent.

Winston does not mean to make light of BSE, he remembers what happened in the UK. However, would like to introduce a couple facts to the discussion. The facts are from the BSE Information website operated by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. First, almost all of the cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), the best known human transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) are "spontaneous, inherited or iatrogenic."

If almost no cases of human TSE are almost are due to contaminated food, why assume that the very rare occasional case of bovine TSE means that the current FDA feed ban regulations are inadequate and need to be tightened on an emergency basis? Particularly since the FDA is working on a more comprehensive regulatory review, changing the regulations now simply because of one or two sporadic cases of BSE seems way out of proportion to any actual problem.

The second fact that Winston would like to introduce is that "No cases of vCJD have been reported in the United States." [emphasis in original]. Winston would like to keep it that way. However, his main interest in BSE regulation is as a case example of FDA and USDA rationally and successfully regulating a high-profile, fear-inducing issue. Winston takes his hat off to the hard working and often unappreciated career officials at the FDA and USDA.

  • Click for CU press release.
  • Click for BSE Information at UIUC website.

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