Mad Cow Disease Essay, Research Paper
Mad Cow Disease
There are two new diseases in a growing line to plague humankind. Bovine Spongiform Encenphalopathy and its human form, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, better known as mad cow disease, are new kinds of diseases that appear to be unstoppable. Mad Cow disease is caused by a mutated chain of proteins in a strand of DNA. Because it is neither a virus nor a bacterium, the protein chain has been named a prion. What happens is still unknown, but the theory is that an animal ingests a mutated prion, and once inside, it attacks other strands of DNA, mutating them into like prions. The effect is a change in the physiological make up of tissues in the animal. The most significant side effect is the sponging of the brain and tonsil tissues. Essentially, the brain of an affected animal turns into a sponge-like piece of matter, filled with holes which kills the animal. Due to the lack of information and action on the part of the European Union, Mad Cow disease is now a wide spread epidemic that is destroying their economy and people.
To emphasize the infancy of BSE, it is important to understand a little of its history. It is believed that the first cattle were infected in the late 1970 s in Great Britain, but the first reported cases of BSE were in September 1985; that would make the disease less than seven years old. Cattle ranchers noticed a few cattle showing signs of a sheep disease known as Scrapie. It is called Scrapie because the infected sheep scrape at their heads with their hooves or against an object, like a fence, until they scrape the skin away, eventually bleeding to death. The cattle were quarantined and kept from scraping. While in quarantine, the cattle started showing other non-Scrapie symptoms. They seemed to lose coordination. The cattle started to twitch and jerk about uncontrollably. It became apparent to health officials that this was not Scrapie but something different. The European Union appointed a group to investigate the new disease. After the initial sets of research, it was decided that cattle had been fed the remains of sheep that had died from Scrapie. At that time, it was still unknown that this was not an autoimmune disease: it was not caused by a virus or bacterium. Since there were no reported cases of similar symptoms in humans, it was believed that BSE could not be transmitted to humans. In 1985 there were twenty-three reported cases of BSE. The E.U. government did not see the potential devastation of BSE, and the subject was pushed aside. In 1989 there were over 30,000 reported cases of BSE. Needless to say, E.U. officials took notice and started a committee to study, evaluate, and monitor BSE. A hidden secret also lurked in the UK: an unknown disease was attacking the nervous systems of five UK citizens. While the E.U. ignored BSE in cattle, the disease mutated and infected five humans the same way Scrapie mutated and infected cattle. It is now known that the first five unlucky souls that contracted CJD (the human form of BSE) consumed beef that was infected with BSE. Why only five out of the possible thousands that ate the beef got CJD is still unknown.
The four-year stretch of ignoring BSE has proved to be a fatal mistake of the European Union. In that four-year period, BSE grew by 1,304 percent. Before 1989 it was a common practice to grind up the remains of slaughtered and dead animals and use them in feed for cattle. This was to promote muscle growth, insuring high slaughter weights. In 1989 E.U. officials took notice of the overwhelming growth in reported cases. The link was made to the use of bone meals and BSE, and a ban was imposed. Still not understanding the severity of BSE and CJD, the government gave feed producers a six-month period in which to diminish their current stock of feed before the ban took effect. This lack of knowledge helped BSE continue to grow and spread throughout the E.U. Cases started popping up everywhere in Europe. What started out as an isolated twenty-three cases in England quickly grew into 30,000 cases with epicenters in France, Ireland, and Germany. After realizing that the growth rate of BSE was out of hand and linking CJD to BSE, the European Union started a new investigation on the disease. Many things were discovered about BSE, but all too late.
In 1996 researchers discovered the BSE prion and how it works. They also discovered that there is no known way of stopping it from growing and killing whomever it has infected. Scientists have tried to kill the prion, but because it is not a pathogen, this cannot be done. They have also tried burning it at extremely high temperatures, but because of the chemical make up of the protein, BSE is unaffected. The only thing left to do until we find a way to stop it is to contain and control it. Containing and controlling it will not be an easy task. It is now believed that BSE can have a gestation period of up to forty years. This means that all the millions of people that have lived or visited Europe since the 1970 s may have been infected, but we might not know for ten to twenty more years. The idea that BSE is spread by ingestion of mutated protein opened up countless possibilities of infection. It finally hit the minds of E.U. officials that brain and tonsil operations done on an undiagnosed victim is a way to spread the disease. Current sterilization practices do not kill or stop the prion. What this means is that if a scalpel was used in the surgery of an infected person and then sterilized and used again on an unaffected person, the uninfected person may now be infected. The lack of action taken by the E.U. means all the infected meat that was processed from slaughter to finished meal may have infected everything with which it came in contact. Slaughterhouse tools, buildings, workers, retail facilities, restaurants, and even peoples houses could all be infected. Due to the long gestation periods of BSE, much of the what ifs are left out in the open.
All these what ifs are causing mayhem in Europe. This is where the European Union s economy is affected. To stop the incredibly quick spread of BSE, the E.U. has been destroying any cattle that cannot be proven with documentation to be BSE free. This means that if the cattle have been exposed to BSE by feed or bloodline, they are killed and disposed of by the government. What this equates into is tens of thousands of cattle have been and are being killed without compensation to the farmer. This kind of tactic is costing millions and millions of dollars to be lost by the agricultural business in Europe. It has caused farmers to go out of business, which diminishes the supply of beef. The lack of supply has driven beef prices out of reach for most Europeans. With no money in their pockets, the farmers have nothing to spend. To paint a picture with words, I offer you this scenario. A community is built around large cattle ranches. The core income for its residents is the sale of cattle. The European government discovers the presence of BSE in the cattle of this community. Because the farmers cannot prove that the healthy cattle did not come in contact with BSE, the government destroys all the cattle. The farmers are left with nothing and go bankrupt. Now the farmers are not spending money at the other businesses in the community. The local butcher suffers first, now that his supply has been cut off. Next are the retailers that are selling nonessential items. The farmers and butchers are not buying televisions or video recorders, and the retailers can not afford to stay in business. Now most of the community is jobless, and forced to either starve or move to find other work. The depression pyramids out to the rest of the community, leaving no living to be made. Now multiply this scenario by all the cattle-dependant communities in Europe, and you re left with a one third of Europe out of work.
The European Union is feeling the effects of a steep drop off in their economy. Besides the widespread unemployment and sudden inflation, Europe is starting to feel the residual effects of its folly. With the onset of desperation to make ends meet, European people are falling prey to the side effects of a poor economy. The crime rate is rising as fast as the unemployment rate, reported drug use is rising, and the number of Europeans reporting being clinically depressed has dramatically increased.
In conclusion, it is easy to link the effects of BSE to the failing European economy. The real cause is not BSE itself but the European s lack of reaction to it. If European Union officials would have responded quickly and seriously to the initial twenty-three cases of BSE in 1985, they could have limited the spread and growth of the disease significantly. The farmers would not have continued to feed their cattle infected food, and in turn, not have had to suffer losing whole herds of cattle to government disposal, thus, not having the huge immediate loss of funds that fuel the European economy. Not only could the E.U. have saved its economy but also the lives of those infected with CJD. Last week here in America, the USDA destroyed 40,000 head of cattle suspected of coming in contact with BSE. As an American, I hope we do not react the same way Europe did. We need to take swift critical action to stop the infection of U.S. cattle with BSE.