The Media & Mad Cows

The anti-Trump Fake News blitz by the legacy media has invoked memories of the Mad Cow Disease epidemic amongst several new media commentators.

Although these references are deployed for humorous effect it’s worth remembering that Mad Cow Disease is deadly serious.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy and fatal neurodegenerative disease in cattle that causes a spongiform degeneration of the brain and spinal cord.

The disease may be most frequently transmitted to humans by eating food contaminated with the brain, spinal cord, or digestive tract of infected carcasses.

However, the infectious agent, although most highly concentrated in nervous tissue, can be found in virtually all tissues throughout the body, including blood.

When it has been transmitted to humans, it is known as new variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD or nvCJD), and by June 2014 it had killed 177 people in the United Kingdom, and 52 elsewhere, primarily in western Europe in countries supplied with beef or beef products from the UK.

Mad Cow Disease can also be used as a metaphor for the legacy media which habitually assigns inconvenient stories to the memory hole.

The infectious agent in BSE is a specific type of misfolded protein called a prion.

In the brain, these proteins cause native cellular prion protein to deform into the infectious state, which then goes on to deform further prion protein in an exponential cascade.

This results in protein aggregates, which then form dense plaque fibers leading to the microscopic appearance of “holes” in the brain, degeneration of physical and mental abilities, and ultimately death.

Therefore, it’s worth reviewing the status of Mad Cow Disease and Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease just in case an inconvenient story has slipped down the memory hole.

In the United Kingdom there is good and bad news about Mad Cow Disease.

The good news is that the Mad Cow Disease epidemic is officially over.

According to the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) through the end of 2006, 190,129 diagnosed cases of BSE (including domestic and imported animals) have been recorded worldwide. Of these, 97 percent or 184,484 cases occurred in the United Kingdom.

BSE cases in the U.K. have declined from a peak of 37,280 cases in 1992 to 114 cases in 2006.

BSEinfo – BSE Incidence/Cases

The first confirmed instance in which an animal fell ill with the disease occurred in 1986 in the United Kingdom, and lab tests the following year indicated the presence of BSE; by November 1987, the British Ministry of Agriculture accepted it had a new disease on its hands.

The BSE crisis led to the European Union banning exports of British beef with effect from March 1996; the ban lasted for 10 years before it was finally lifted on 1 May 2006 despite attempts in May 1996 by British prime minister John Major to get the ban lifted.

The bad news is that Mad Cow Disease hasn’t gone away.

The problem being that Mad Cow Disease has an incubation period of 2.5 to 5 years.

BSE has a long incubation period, of 2.5 to 5 years, usually affecting adult cattle at a peak age onset of four to five years

Therefore, when the United Kingdom introduced their Over Thirty Months Rule [whereby cattle could not be sold for food if they were aged over 30 months] it meant infected animals were slaughtered for human consumption before they developed Mad Cow Disease.

Because the majority of cattle were slaughtered for human consumption at 18-24 months, before they could develop clinical disease, there were infected animals that were neither detected nor detectable by test methods used in the past 20 years.

BSEinfo – BSE Incidence/Cases

There have been three main BSE Controls:

Animal feed that contained animal protein thought to have spread BSE is banned.
This is called the Feed Ban.

The parts of an animal most likely to contain BSE are removed when an animal is slaughtered, and they do not go into our food.
This is called the Specified Risk Material Control and removes almost all the risk (over 99%) that could be present if any animal has BSE.

Until November 2005, cattle could not be sold for food if they were aged over 30 months, as BSE does not develop fully in cattle until they are older.
This was called the Over Thirty Months Rule.

An additional control was also introduced banning the process of recovering meat mechanically from the bones of cattle.

Food Standards Agency – BSE and Beef: New Controls Explained – 2005

The system of BSE testing healthy slaughtered cattle aged over 30 months was introduced on 7 November 2005. Between then and the end of 2011, over 2.4 million healthy cattle slaughtered for human consumption were tested for BSE.

There were ten cases of BSE detected, of which two were less than 72 months of age (one in 2006 and one in 2008), and eight were over 72 months of age.

Impact Assessment of change to BSE Testing – 2011

Mad Cow Disease returns to the UK after dead cow tests positive for BSE

But only one case of BSE was identified in animals last year – following three cases in 2013.

The Mirror – Richard Smith and David Ottewell – 1 Oct 2015

The other bad news is that the official origin of Mad Cow Disease “will probably never be known with certainty” because it “originated from a novel source”.

By the end of 1987 Mr John Wilesmith, the Head of the CVL Epidemiology Department, had concluded that the cause of the reported cases of BSE was the consumption of meat and bone meal (MBM), which was made from animal carcasses and incorporated in cattle feed.

This conclusion was correct. It had been reached with commendable speed.

BSE probably originated from a novel source early in the 1970s, possibly a cow or other animal that developed disease as a consequence of a gene mutation.

The origin of the disease will probably never be known with certainty.

The BSE Inquiry – Executive Summary

A U.K. review of BSE origins noted it seems likely that from 1970 to the 1980s when MBM was widely used in cattle feed, an unusual linkage of events occurred.

The diet of calves, in particular a high proportion of dairy calves, was changed so that MBM was included in their starter rations.

Infected cattle carcasses were rendered into MBM, increasing the levels of the cattle-adapted scrapie agent in the protein supplement and eventually causing a full-scale BSE epidemic.

BSEinfo – BSE Origin

The practice in the UK of recycling animal protein as an ingredient of animal feed dates back to at least 1926.

The theory that BSE was caused by a reaction to the use of organophosphorus compounds (OPs) poured on cattle as systemic pesticides cannot be reconciled with the epidemiology and is not supported by research.

One experiment has, however, given some limited support to the possibility that the OP phosmet might modify the susceptibility of cells to the prion disease agent.”)

When it comes to Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease there is also good and bad news.

Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) is an incurable, and universally fatal neurodegenerative disease.

CJD is at times called the human form of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) but only Variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD) is acquired from BSE.

Rapid mental deterioration will spiral within months and worsen over time, leading to coma in most cases.

The disease will invariably lead to death within one or two years, with a 1-year survival rate of just 10%. Direct causes of death include heart failure, respiratory failure, pneumonia and other infections.–Jakob_disease

The good news is that the epidemic of variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease is officially over.

variant (vCJD) (acquired from Bovine spongiform encephalopathy), caused by consuming food contaminated with prions

familial (fCJD), caused by an inherited mutation in the prion-protein gene.

iatrogenic CJD, caused by contamination with tissue from an infected person, usually as the result of a medical procedure.–Jakob_disease

For many of the vCJD patients, direct evidence exists that they had consumed tainted beef, and this is assumed to be the mechanism by which all affected individuals contracted it.

As of August 2005, 150 deaths from vCJD had been reported in the United Kingdom, at a median age of 28.

U.S. Beef Industry Faces New Policies And Testing For Mad Cow Disease – Kate O’Neill – Oct–Dec 2005

The UK death toll from BSE stands at 177 since teenager Stephen Churchill died of a fatal brain condition linked to mad cow disease in 1995.

The Mirror – Richard Smith and David Ottewell – 1 Oct 2015

The bad news is that an epidemic of sporadic Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease has developed.

sporadic (sCJD), caused by the spontaneous misfolding of prion-protein in an individual.

This accounts for 85% of cases of CJD.–Jakob_disease–Jakob_disease

The sporadic Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease epidemic has been developing since [at least] 1970.

And sporadic Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease “may” be linked to Mad Cow Disease [aka BSE aka Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy].

In a BBC News article published in 2004 entitled BSE link to different CJD types it states:

“Eating BSE-infected meat could lead to people developing different types of CJD, researchers have suggested.

Until now, it had been thought that BSE was only linked to the variant form of Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease, but Medical Research Council experts say BSE may also manifest itself as sporadic CJD, or a new form of the disease not yet seen in humans.

The study, in Science, raises the possibility that more people than previously thought may be at risk.”

BSE ‘link to different CJD types – BBC News – 12 Nov 2004

So, I’m wondering if there could be a possibility of a misdiagnosis, mistaking CJD for Alzheimer’s, which appears to be on the increase.

The BSE Outbreak in the UK and Cases of Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease Observed Now – Philip Oldfield – 28 Aug 2015

For females, the death rates from heart disease and stroke have halved since 2001, whereas the death rate from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease has doubled

Public Health England – Major Causes Of Death And How They Have Changed

In other words:

Mad Cow Disease and Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease never went away.

I guess it’s another inconvenient story that’s been stuffed down the memory hole.

For some perspective here are some United Kingdom Measles Death statistics.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Medicine. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Media & Mad Cows

  1. TimE. says:

    From “Mad Cows” to “some very peculiar signals” – The Mass Media is on a BLITZKREIG:

    ‘Strange’ signals that appear to be coming from a star close to Earth may have been sent by ALIENS, scientists say

    Astronomers picked up the communications in May and have refused to rule out the possibility they were sent by extraterrestrials

  2. TimE. says:


    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed an “atypical” case of bovine spongiform encephalopothy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, in an 11-year old beef cow in Alabama but emphasized that the animal never entered the slaughterhouse and “at no time presented a risk to food supply or to human health.”

    According to a news release from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, the sick animal was discovered during routine surveillance at an Alabama livestock market. The animal died at the market before entering the slaughter channels and samples were sent to a USDA lab in Iowa for confirmation.

    The department referred to this case as “atypical,” and “a rare and spontaneous incident.”

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