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No Mad Cow Disease Concerns for Hobby Farmers

The discovery of a U.S.-born cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy raises cattle-health questions among small-scale farmers.

By Lisa Munniksma

May 8, 2012

Cows on pasture
Photo by Rachael Brugger
Hobby farms have no reason to worry about their cattle herds being infected with mad cow disease, according to extension veterinarian Dr. John Maas. 

With late April’s announcement that an aged California dairy cow tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy—mad cow disease—farmers and consumers alike did a double-take. It’s been six years since a U.S. cow was found with BSE, so the disease has not been front-of-mind for food-safety and agriculture proponents.

Unlike the form of BSE found in the devastating outbreak in England in the 1990s, this BSE case doesn’t appear to have been caused by feed containing the infective agent.

“She was positive on the clinical test, which detects abnormal proteins, but the anatomy of the brain changes are not typical of BSE—at least the BSE contracted from contaminated feed,” explains John Maas, DVM, DACVIM, a University of California Cooperative, Davis, extension veterinarian.

Exactly how this cow contracted the disease is unknown.

Mad cow disease in cattle is caused by prions, the smallest-known infectious agents composed of protein. An animal can have mad cow disease for months or years before showing signs.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, behavioral symptoms of mad cow disease are subtle and increase over a period of several months. They may begin with something as simple as repeated nose licking, sneezing or snorting, nose wrinkling, head rubbing and tossing, and tooth grinding. Animals can be easily startled or agitated, stand with a fixed gaze for long periods, and exhibit incoordination. Weight loss and decreased milk production are also common. There are a number of conditions that cause clinical signs similar to these, and if you’re concerned that an animal on your farm is exhibiting symptoms of mad cow disease, you should contact your veterinarian right away.

As a small-scale farmer, there’s not a lot you can do to protect your herd from BSE, and this one case—the fourth ever in the U.S.—is not a cause for concern. Dr. Maas, who has his own herd of cattle, admitted to eating a steak just two nights before talking with Hobby Farms and says he’s more concerned with getting on the freeway than he is with mad cow disease in his herd or the food chain.

As a result of the BSE outbreak in England, the FDA banned the feeding of most mammalian proteins to ruminants, including cattle, in 1997. Following feed guidelines is the best safeguard against BSE for your cattle herd.

While quarantine procedures for cattle new to your herd are vital to management of other diseases, BSE cannot be passed from animal-to-animal contact. Humans can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from eating beef products contaminated with BSE, but other livestock cannot be infected with BSE.

There is no vaccination or treatment for mad cow disease. Taking a sample of brain matter is the only test; there is no way to test a live animal.

Follow the investigation of the California BSE case, and learn more about the disease from the USDA.

 

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No Mad Cow Disease Concerns for Hobby Farmers

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Reader Comments
Good to know
a', Houston, TX
Posted: 9/24/2013 2:52:08 AM
Interesting
Rich, Knightdale, NC
Posted: 5/16/2012 12:08:45 AM
Acording to my opinion; what is the common denominator of the neurodegenerative diseases (mad cow disease…) , including Alzheimer's disease? This was 11 years ago ( March 2001), when I published (in Czech) an alternative theory ( BSE ammonia- magnesium theory), where the main role of NMDA receptors was described. In addition, in scientific literature there was described the effect of drugs, in Alzheimer's disease in humans, on the principle of control hyperfunction of NMDA receptors, which is consistent with my BSE alternative theory of BSE. See more about the Nameda; A medication known as Namenda® (memantine), an N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist, is prescribed to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease (www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers- -disease-medications-fact-sheet
I worked in the USA almost one year- West Virginia University (1991, Morgantown). There I obtained a lot of information from scientific journals (in former Czechoslovakia it was not possible), what I used to create an alternative theory of the origin and the spread of mad cow disease (BSE). Relevant findings I have published 11 years ago in Czech (March 2001) and in English (May 2002; Netherlands, International Journal "Feed Mix"; www.warmwell.com/lone_voices_in_the_bse_debate[1]. pdf ). Later, in August 2006, I published own website, see; www.bse-expert.cz
Since then I pointed my website in the order of hundreds of magazines around the world, especially in the U.S.. See some of them, for example on Google; www.google.com/search?q=hlasny+bse+expert&hl=cs&lr- =&start=0&sa=N&filter=0 . In 2008, I repeatedly visited the USA, it was about the occasion of my presentation in Vancouver, Canada (July 2008; 29th World Veterinary Congress; Neurodegenerative Diseases and Schizophrenia as a Hyper or Hypofunction of the NMDA Receptors (www.bse-expert.cz/pdf/Veter_kongres.pdf).

According to my theory, the origins of the neurodegenerative diseases may lie in chronic magnesium deficiency coupled with a high protein intake. So defective prions are markers of the diseases rather than the cause and BSE can be a naturally occurring disease, not an infectious disease. WHY?
Because, about the BSE/ vCJD diseases; this was never justified scientifically! It was pure, math-model-driven science fiction. But it was pushed very vigorously by the British science establishment, which has never confessed to its errors... See more about the; BSE/ vCJD mathematical- models, see recent large three comments (February 2010) in Telegraph.co.uk (www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7168326/Doe- s-vCJD-still-pose-a-major-public-health-threat. html).
Josef, Monterey, CA
Posted: 5/12/2012 1:32:18 AM
Interesting
i, i, ID
Posted: 5/10/2012 10:33:05 PM
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