That being said, you should be informed that there is wide debate about a series of deaths that occurred in people who hunted deer and elk both in known endemic areas and outside those areas. Of 50 people identified as eating deer and elk at "wild game feasts" in a cabin owned by one of the decedents, two reportedly died of CJD and another died from another form of neurological disease. One decedent had only participated in the feasts on a single occasion. There are many interesting cases in the medical journals and scientists are looking for a variant or atypical type of neurological prion disease to explain these deaths. Wearing gloves when field-dressing the carcasses and boning-out the meat and minimizing the handling of brain and any spinal cord or other neurological tissues.
Although the CDC suggests that the risk, if any, of transmission of CWD to humans is low, they do recommend that hunters minimize exposure to the CWD prion by:
As a precaution, hunters should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent, such as brain, spinal cord, eyes, tonsils, and lymph nodes. Some tissues thought to be negative for the infective agent include liver, bone marrow, skeletal muscle, and skin.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel interviewed one of their local hunters, Kevin McCabe. He was in a quandary about what to do with 200 pounds of venison found to be positive for CWD following testing by the processing plant where he'd left the deer. Although he had field-dressed the animal himself, had he really been careful? Should he listen to the CDC and avoid eating the meat?
The story continued that, after much consideration, he decided he'd probably just eat the meat himself and not feed it to his family. His children vetoed that idea. So, he considered turning the 200 pounds of venison into dog food. Prior to bringing part of the meat home, Mr. McCabe consulted his wife, a veterinarian. She told him in no uncertain terms to keep the venison off their property – period.
Well known chef and cookbook author, Sara Dickerman, says: " Until I know more, venison from New Zealand, where every animal is tested and there's not been a single case of CWD, seems more appealing-and possibly safer-than home grown from the United States."
I'd like to know how the processing plant properly disposed of that venison. How do you safely get rid of CWD contaminated meat when no one knows whether those disease-causing prions remain in the soil? How long are prions in the soil a danger? And, can deer and elk become ill from the soil, alone, rather than from other animals?
Folks often allow their dogs to chew on antlers. Now, that may be something you want to research and rethink, or perhaps discuss with your veterinarian health care provider. Although it is thought to be extremely unlikely that your dogs could ever become ill, could those antlers possibly contaminate fresh soil, thus exposing greater numbers of the cervid family to infection?
I don't have many answers. The more I read, research, e-mail, and phone various experts, the more I find myself concentrating on the "loophole" words and phrases, such as: highly unlikely, perhaps, maybe, possible, probable, documented, nearly, estimated and my favorite - "appears but not scientifically proven, so we'll just say undocumented." If you ever notice any abnormal neurological symptoms in your cat, immediately consult a veterinarian and if the cat dies, request a necropsy to rule out an outbreak of FSE within the U.S.
Overwhelmingly, scientists believe our human and dogs' food supply chain is safe from BSE and CWD, well, except in very rare instances. And, in those cases, it is the humans, not our dogs, who are not guaranteed 100 percent safety.
Other than those anecdotes reported by Ann Martin, I have found no documented cases of prion disease in dogs.
If I owned a kitty, or had children, I'd make certain there was no pet food containing beef or beef byproducts or beef meal in my home. I'd follow the recommendations of Ben Jones.
If I had venison or elk meat in my freezer, I'd call my local Department of Public Health and ask how to safely and permanently dispose of it. Perhaps you'd come to a different conclusion.
Each of us must make informed decisions for the well being of our families and our pets. For me, these decisions will be based upon:
Recently, a friend who feeds raw beef to her dogs organized friends into a food-buying co-op for pet owners. They contacted a local rancher who sells organic-certified beef and contracted to purchase scraps and bones on a regular basis, reducing not only their individual costs but their collective worries.
The jury is out on BSE and CWD. More is unknown than is certain. Knowledge is power; so update yours often.
January 25, 2005 – Author's Update
I originally researched and wrote this piece in July 2004. Since that time, several significant events have taken place:
FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine
Their most recent bulletin, dated November 4, 2004 explains evaluations of two commercial test kits designed to detect animal proteins in animal feed. Having an on-site testing method is extremely important and immediately relevant because in January 2005 a Canadian cow was discovered that had contracted BSE after their feed ban was in place.
Two Canadian Cows Tested Positive for BSE in January, 2005
Between January 3 and January 13, 2005, two additional cows have tested positive for BSE in Canada. The first cow, approximately eight years old, was given feed prior to food restriction bans. This case was not unexpected.
The second cow, however, is making headline news in both Canada and, to a lesser degree, the United States, because it was born after restrictions banning the feeding of animal proteins to cattle went into effect.
The infected cow was behaving "fairly normally" before it slipped and injured itself in late December (2004) prompting a call to the local veterinarian, who asked for euthanization and BSE testing as part of Canada's surveillance system. Tests came back positive for BSE.
Can you believe that feed restrictions, put into place in 1997, said that: "pre-ban feed can still be used until it runs out?" Many Canadian cattlemen estimated that could have taken up to three years.
On January 14, 2005, the Globe and Mail newspaper (Canada) reported that the search for the source of the latest mad cow case had come down to a readily available grain supplement an Alberta farmer bought nearly a year after strict new safeguards were put into place. The farmer, Wilheim Vohs, fed the supplement to 104 animals in his 1998 calf crop. Of that number 34 were used for breeding and the rest wound up in feedlots for slaughter.
The investigation into the contents of the supplement, its manufacturer and the mill selling it remains ongoing.
Ah, Politics...Quotes from Alberta's Premier re BSE
January 14, 2005: Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said: "BSE is overblown; the illness should be renamed BS."
Additional infamous advice given by Ralph Klein to cattlemen in Alberta if they should discover a BSE cow in their herd: "Shoot, shovel and shut up."
Controversy in Canada – Science and Politics
January 13, 2005 Editorial from the CBC states:
"It is a sad state of affairs indeed that forces Canadians to rely on Washington's assurance that Canadian beef is safe for Americans, and therefore safe for them to eat, too. But, that is the price we pay for our government's apparent willingness to put economic interests ahead of public health."
Toronto Star Editorial of January 10, 2005:
"As officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency scramble to find out it if was an isolated case of BSE, those three letters could again become a "Bad Sign for our Exports."
On January 20, 2005, an editorial in the Toronto Star newspaper said:
"Both Canada and the United States are relying on a feed ban to stop mad cow disease, but the effectiveness of the ban can be gauged only if there is widespread, comprehensive testing of cattle. No one knows yet how this young cow was infected or whether the ban was violated somehow."
To address the threat in cattle feed, the Canadian government has proposed a tighter ban on ruminant materials that would bar so-called specified risk materials from being used for ANY animal feed or in fertilizer. The highest risk cattle materials would be entirely out of circulation, although such things as blood, milk, gelatin and rendered fat could still be turned into feed for chickens and pigs.
The editorial went on to call for "Canadian and American cattle tested rigorously for the presence of mad cow disease."
United States announces plans to reopen the border for Canadian beef cattle The United States Department of Agriculture announced that the ban on live Canadian beef cattle under thirty months old will be lifted on March 7, 2005. Resolve to stick with this timetable, despite two additional cases of BSE in Canadian cattle in 2005, has led to vigorous objections by American cattle producers.
The United Stockgrowers of America –vs- USDA: Lawsuit filed January 10, 2005
On January 10, 2005 the group known as R-Calif., USA (R-Calif. United Stockgrowers of America) filed a federal lawsuit challenging the USDA's Final Rule on reopening the Canadian border to live cattle younger than 30 months and beef products from animals of all ages.
This lawsuit lists approximately seventy allegations aimed at proving that the USDA is being "arbitrary and capricious and abusing its discretion in failing to consider relevant information or response to public comments."
Plaintiffs are asking the court to force the USDA to:
"revise and seriously reconsider its determination that opening the US border to Canadian cattle and meat would present little risk to US animals, human consumers and the livestock industry with the United States."
For a complete transcript of the complaint go to: r-califusa.com
United States Economics
Not only are American cattlemen upset because of public health reasons, they are trying to prevent what they believe could become an economic disaster if the ban on Canadian beef is lifted.
While Canadian beef was banned, American producers had a smaller base of competition along with increased demand. The discovery of two more Alberta cows infected with BSE just weeks before the ban is supposed to be lifted has given a scientific boost to their economic argument.
American beef producers believe that Japan is much less likely to lift its ban on United States beef when the United States allows Canadian cattle imports. The only BSE positive cow found within the United States hailed from Canada.
United States Senate Agriculture Committee Hearings
The United States Senate Agriculture Committee has scheduled meetings to begin on February 3, 2005, regarding whether beef trade restrictions with Canada should be lifted, as planned, on March 7, 2005.
And, Back to Dog Food and My Views
Currently, in the United States, no regulations exist regarding the content of dog food. Yet, it is a known that feed lots serve dog food to cattle.
Perhaps rules, regulations and regular testing for foods intended for canine consumption are needed not so much to protect dogs, who appear to be resistant or immune to BSE, but to protect the American beef industry and consumers.
The more information that I glean regarding BSE, the more it seems that action that should be based in science is influenced by politics and economics. So many factions have an agenda and there are powerful lobbying groups on both sides of the border.
Who is looking out for the consumer? How much confidence can Canadians muster when the Premier of Alberta recommends: "shoot, shovel and shut up?" Why must a lawsuit be filed in order to have Senate hearings and the USDA reconsider its dates for lifting the Canadian beef ban?
Can science and reasonable minds prevail in setting a responsible course of action that lessens the possibility of a BSE outbreak in North America?
February 06, 2005 - Author's Update
Infectious Agent Linked to Mad Cow Disease Found in Organs Other Than the Brain
Prions, infectious proteins associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease, were previously thought to accumulate mainly in the brain, but Yale and University of Zurich researchers report in Science that other organs can also become infected.
New Haven, Connecticut - Past research had shown that the brain and spinal cord bear the highest infection risk for BSE, followed by organs such as the spleen, lymph nodes and tonsils. All other organs were thought to be devoid of prions.
Ruddle and co-authors analyzed three organ systems that are typically free of prions: liver, pancreas and kidney, in five different mouse models of chronic inflammation. After the mice were infected with prions, the team detected prion accumulation in the inflamed organs. They concluded that the spectrum of organs containing prions might be considerably increased in situations of chronic inflammation.
"The study suggests that the current prion risk-classification of farm animal organs may need to be reassessed in animals suffering from inflammation due to microbial infection or autoimmune disease," said Nancy H. Ruddle, the John Rodman Paul Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine.
Previous research in Adriano Aguzzi's group at the Institute of Neuropathology at University of Zurich showed that B cells are essential for the spread of prions to organs other than the brain. B cells are found in lymphoid organs in healthy humans and animals, but they can migrate into non-lymphoid organs under inflammatory circumstances.
Other researchers on the study include first author Mathias Heikenwalder, Nicolas Zeller, Harald Seeger, Marco Prinz, Peter-Christian Klohn, Petra Schwarz, Charles Weissman and the director of the study, Adriano Aguzzi.
Ruddle's portion of this study was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant CA 16885.
Source: Science, Online Publication: January 20, 2005. Print Publication: February 18, 2005.
Information for this article has come from a variety of sources. These include, but are not limited to: