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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Mad Cow and Wasting Disease

By: Shirley Greene

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Restrictions have also been placed on slaughter and processing methods to "increase the likelihood" tissue from the nervous system of the cow does not end up in meat products. I don't know about you, but I'd personally prefer the phrase "positively prevent."

New and better methods of tracking cattle have also been proposed and debated. Final determinations on tracking and record keeping requirements, like many other suggestions, are still "pending" before various groups and committees within the USDA.

Is Your Dog at Risk from Eating Kibble, Hooves or Rawhide?

In a word, the general consensus of the international scientific community is a resounding "NO." For reasons unknown, dogs appear to be immune to prion diseases. Cats, however, are not so lucky.

Many animal experts recommend that any dog food containing beef or beef byproducts be kept away from felines, even though there is no reason to believe that BSE is present in American dog foods.

The FDA states: "There is no evidence to date that dogs can contract BSE or any similar disease and there is further no evidence that dogs can transmit the disease to humans. With the exception of cats, no pets are known to be able to contract Mad Cow Disease."

Scientists at Medi-Cal Pet Foods state: "In contrast to cats in the UK and France, there has been no disease reported in either cats or dogs in North America. The absence of BSE-type diseases in dogs is interesting and may indicate a genetic resistance or species-barrier to this disease in dogs."

In May 2004, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) learned 1,300 bags of dog food were to be recalled by a manufacturer due to the possibility that the food contained beef and meat by-products thought to have come from a BSE infected steer. Even though dogs cannot contract mad cow disease, the worry was that the dog food could accidentally be mixed into cattle or other animal feeds, which could then spread the disease.

The CFIA issued a statement that said, in part: "We wish to remind livestock producers not to mix dog food into cattle or other animal feeds. There is no scientific evidence that dogs can contract BSE or any similar disease. (N)or is there any evidence that humans can contract the disease through physical contact with the dry pet food."

Alfonso Torres, Associate Dean at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, says: "There is no evidence that dogs have ever gotten the disease and there is no evidence that cats will contract the disease under normal circumstances."

An author of two books about feeding our dogs, Ann Martin, would disagree. She cites a case where Reuters European Business unearthed a 1991 study on the brains of 444 dead hunting hounds that suggested some of the animals had developed the first signs of a Spongiform disease. Further necropsies were not performed. Ms. Martin also cites a 1997 case wherein a Golden Retriever in Norway died from BSE-related brain damage and quotes Eivind Liven, Director of Norway's Animal Health Board, as telling the press that: "the dog had most likely contracted the prion disease from eating contaminated dog food."

(Note: I was personally unable to independently confirm these instances.)

Federal regulators go on to state: "There's no reason to worry about pets getting sick from pet food and no evidence to suggest any tainted meat has made its way into the pet food supply. There's never, ever been a reported case of a dog getting it."
        
Stephen Sundlof, Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA, says: "Some animals declared unfit for people can be used in pet food. But, they must be processed in such a way that they are deemed safe for the pets. This generally means that the food must be heat-treated or the animal-derived parts must be rendered to destroy any pathogens."

(Excuse, me, Mr. Sundlof, but didn't we just learn that prions are not destroyed by heat?)

Dr. Neils Pedersen, a specialist in feline infectious diseases at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California at Davis, says: "It would be highly unlikely that nervous tissue would end up even in pet food. It's one of those products that is as vigorously inspected and quality-controlled as canned tuna. In the U. S., pet food is closely inspected for quality and safety, in part because some of it ends up eaten by humans." Dr. Pederson is also the Director of both the Center for Companion Animal Health and the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

Since 1997, the U.S. has banned feeding cattle, sheep, and goats any food that contains the brain or spinal cord material from other livestock. The FDA asked for comments when it considered issuing a ban on using cattle brain and spinal tissues in food for dogs, cats, pigs and poultry. However, the U.S. government has not banned the use of these tissues in pet food or foods for non-livestock and as of July 2004, their final decision is still "pending."

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