Mad Cow Disease (BSE)

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, is a disease affecting cattle that results from the consumption of prion-infected brain and spinal matter from cattle, characterized by the wasting of the brain. Mad Cow disease is a direct consequence of industrial agriculture, as ground up animal parts were systematically fed to cows as a dietary protein supplement.

Humans may contract the disease by consuming infected beef. Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (or vCJD) is the human variant of Mad Cow and can go undetected for many years. Symptoms are similar to dementia, and eventually the disease causes death.To date, the disease has claimed the lives of over 150 people worldwide. The symptoms of vCJD are eerily similar to alzheimer’s disease, and some speculate that vCJD may be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease:

Out of 4 million cases of Alzheimer’s Diseases in North America, 120,000 may actually have CJD, caused by eating beef infected with a strain of BSE. If we don’t do autopsies… we have no idea about the general prevalence of these kind of infections and [whether] it is changing…
From Pandemonium: Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, and Other Biological Plagues of the 21st Century by Andrew Nikiforuk

Cooking at high temperatures does not kill the prions that cause the disease. There are currently no vaccines or treatment for the disease.

In 1997 the Canadian government put a voluntary feed ban in place to prevent the feeding of animal protein to cattle which was not fully enforced until 2003. By removing the “specified risk material” (brain tissue, spinal matter, and intestines) during slaughter the chances of infected cattle parts ending up in feed would be decreased. However, these are not fail-safe measures as BSE still infects cattle, and if undetected, can end up in our food system. The latest case of BSE in Canada was in November, 2008 The CFIA prohibits Canadian abattoirs from BSE testing all the cattle they process.

In 2004 three Health Canada scientists were fired after having raised the alarm over weaknesses in Canada’s approach to BSE, among other things.