Published on 02/07/01

Mad Cow Madness: More Fright Than Might

A frightening report of "mad cow disease" dangers has reared its ugly head again. This time, the feared carrier is candy.

New York City health officials began investigating sales of Mamba fruit chew candy. The distributor of the Mamba fruit chews insists it poses no health risks, even though it contains a beef-based gelatin.

The company, Storck U.S.A., reports no plans to change the ingredients of the Mamba sold in the United States.


"The most important point to remember is that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), widely known as mad cow disease, has never been found in the United States," said Ronnie Silcox, an animal scientist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Silcox said the United States guards against the disease. "We don't import live cattle or beef from countries with reported cases," he said.

BSE, a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle, has been widely diagnosed in Europe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report more than 178,000 worldwide cases since BSE was first diagnosed in 1986 in Great Britain.

The disease has also been confirmed in native-born cattle in 12 other European countries. But more than 95 percent of all BSE cases have been in the United Kingdom.

Animals suffering from BSE display a range of symptoms, from nervousness to a loss of coordination. There is no treatment, and infected cattle die.

Non-Threat In Texas

Another U.S. BSE scare came out of a Texas feedlot last week. Some meat and bone meal got mixed in with the cattle feed. "We've had a ban on using ruminant meat and bone meal in cattle feed since 1997," Silcox said.

"The feed company that did it reported the problem immediately and voluntarily issued a recall," he said. "The cattle were quarantined, and the feed company bought the cattle from the people who had used it."

Scientists believe BSE was spread in the United Kingdom when farmers fed ruminant by-products and protein sources to cattle.

Important Safeguards

"Even though we've never had BSE in the United States, we ban the practice so if BSE ever did show up, we would be ahead of the game to prevent the spread here," Silcox said.

"The U.S. beef and dairy industries are doing everything possible to prevent BSE here," he said. "If the cattle did eat the feed, the chances that there would be a problem are minuscule. We just want to do what we can to keep this from becoming a problem in this country."

Human Form

While the BSE epidemic is waning in the United Kingdom, it leaves in its wake dozens of cases of human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. CDC reports pin the most likely cause on the consumption of beef products contaminated by central nervous system tissue.

There have been only 10 to 15 cases a year since it first appeared in 1994. But no one can predict its future magnitude or spread.

"There is classical or sporadic CJD that occurs worldwide. But then there is this specific outbreak of 88 cases of a deviant form. The British Board of Health feels it comes from eating meat products of infected cows and probably from eating brain or spinal tissue," Silcox said.

"In the process of deboning meat, some spinal tissue can get mixed into sausage and other processed meats," he said. "We don't think that skeletal meat or milk would cause a problem even from infected cattle."

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.