Third Case of Mad Cow Disease

March/April 2006


The third U.S. case of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) was confirmed this week, 18 years after Great Britain destroyed 3.7 million cattle in an effort to eradicate the fatal disease that had claimed 143 people in the United Kingdom.

Like the first two cases in the United States (December 2003, Washington state; November 2004, Texas), this time the degenerative disease was found in a 'downed' animal. Downed animals cannot walk or stand, and are classified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as 'diseased.' Estimates on the number of diseased/downed animals that make it into the human food supply range from 100,000 to 200,000 annually, or more than 70 percent of the downed animals brought to USDA slaughterhouses.

In addition to the risk of mad cow disease, downed cows are more likely to be contaminated with fecal pathogens and other diseases. The USDA previously agreed to ban the use of downer cows, but recently, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced that downed animals may again be used for human food. Because the USDA's policy on downed animals has been inconsistent, concerned citizens ? including U.S. representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and the organizations Farm Sanctuary and ? are supporting legislation that would permanently ban the use of downed animals in the human food supply. The U.S. Senate has passed the Downed Animal Protection Act, but the House has yet to decide.