BY JIM SCANLON
As the price of meat falls, thousands of jobs are threatened, and thousands of farm families (even organic farmers) in rural economies face disaster. The British Conservative Government also seems likely to fall and the unification of Western Europe, so painstakingly put together since the agony of World War II, is in serious trouble.
Although there is no evidence whatsoever that eating beef resulted in any of the 14 unusual cases of Creutzfeldt Jacob disease, the scare has focused attention on what cows are fed, and what their bodies are turned into.
It seems that everything but the "moo" is turned into something. Gallstones are sold in the Far East as sexual stimulants and as jewelry. Horns and hooves make gelatin and collagen; bones and blood become fertilizer; hide becomes leather goods; and ovaries, spleen, adrenal and pituitary glands, lungs and pancreas are processed into medicines. Cow lips go to Mexico for taco fillings; cheeks are made into baloney; hearts go to Russia for sausage; stomach, kidneys, testes, liver and brains are all consumed one way or another by use for our pets. All this in edition to the muscle tissue commonly called meat.
So the mad cow crisis has focused attention not only on what cows feed on (it's a cow eat cow world!) but what parts of cows we feed on! How do you know exactly what is in your fast food burger, or your homeburger or sausage? How do you know where the material came from in your moisturizing lotion or the casings of your vitamin supplements?
Of course, you don't know, you trust the system. And it is confidence in science, governmental regulation, agribusiness and the food processing industry which has been eroded by the mad cow crisis—in more ways than one.
The disease in humans which most resembles mad cow is called Creutzfeldt Jacob disease, a rare debilitating dementia which affects mostly people over 50 years of age (95 percent). Aside from a mourning ceremony involving ritual cannibalism, once practiced in New Guinea, and modern high-tech scientific medicine, no other environmental factors have been identified so far.
There seems to be a genetic susceptibility, and it has also been transmitted through neurosurgery, electrodes used in brain probes, transplanted corneas and brain membrane. During the 1960s and '70s, human growth hormone was manufactured from pituitaries removed from people who had recently died.
On April 25, 1996, Nature, the international journal of science, reported a lawsuit in the UK on behalf of 8 of 17 people known to have contracted CJ disease from treatments with human growth hormone before 1985. Over 2,000 persons were treated with the hormone and 16 of the 17 involved in the lawsuit are now dead. A further 200 are infected but have not yet died. (Death usually occurs a year or so after the onset of symptoms.)
The infection of children by contaminated growth hormone has been known for some time, but the method of removal of the glands was not! Nature noted that almost a million pituitaries were removed over the 23-year period and that the mortuary attendants who did the work were paid 20 pence per gland. This would mean that over a thousand pituitaries a day were removed, seven days a week!
It is not clear if the deceased, or their families, gave permission for the removals, or if other payments were made. But since power tools must have been used in the arduous task of cutting the skulls, and since it is hard to imagine mortuary assistants being better equipped and more careful than brain surgeons, it is extremely puzzling that none of them contracted Creutzfeldt Jacob, or other diseases.
Together with a British collaborator, your reporter has advanced (on the Internet), the theory that the 14 anomalous Creutzfeldt Jacob disease cases in the UK are not that unusual, and are most likely, not related to the consumption of cow meat or other body organs.
The most likely source of contamination would still seem to be the known traditional sources—intrusive medical procedures—perhaps dental or ophthalmic—with contaminated instruments.
Mad Cow Disease And Blood
BY JIM SCANLON
In the fall of 1995, without fanfare, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration initiated a voluntary program to cease taking blood from donors who are identified as having Creutzfeldt Jacob disease, which mostly afflicts people over 65.
Although there has been no instance of transmission through blood or blood products, the FDA is taking no chances because of concern in the United Kingdom that a new variation of the disease, which can strike younger people, might have been passed on to humans from cattle.
At least one regular blood donor was diagnosed as having CJ disease, and blood from a patient with the disease will pass on the infection to laboratory animals if injected directly into the brain.