Mad Cow Scare Impacts Valley Beef Industry

By: Damon Dillman
By: Damon Dillman

Mad Cow disease could be the Grinch that steals Christmas for Valley cattle raisers.

Officials are saying we shouldn't be worried about the disease, but some aren't listening. Stocks of fast food franchises, like McDonald's and Wendy's, have dropped. And several countries, such as Japan, Australia, and Mexico, have temporarily banned U.S. beef.

Local cattle producers say that's not good for business.

"Foreign countries tend to be a little more skittish, and they could, we could see exports banned for months," said Jackie Lohr.

"It's gonna have a pretty strong influence, especially the Japanese market," added her husband Stephen. "I believe a lot of our beef around here locally goes to Japan."

Clay Hewitt of the Staunton Union Stock Yards says the price of beef could be cut in half, at least temporarily. That's why he's telling customers not to sell any cattle for a week or two, while the situation dies down.

And the Lohrs agree with the wait-and-see approach.

"Hopefully it's a short-term, by spring things will have been washed away and cleared up and over with," said Stephen.

"My plan is no different than it was two days ago," said Jackie. "We're going to hold most of our cattle until spring, and see what the market's like.

"I'm hoping that by spring that Mad Cow will be the farthest thing from our minds, and we'll be ready to fire up the barbecue and have some more steaks."

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What Is Mad Cow Disease?

  • Mad cow, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a disease found in cattle. Found in humans it is named Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (VCJD).

What is Mad cow (BSE)?

  • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a progressive neurological disorder.

  • The disease can be transmitted between cattle when infected meat is digested by the animal.

  • The disease has now cure in cattle.

Transmission to Humans

  • Although the risk is very small, humans can contract the disease, which is known as VCJD.

  • The disease is fatal and causes brain disorders with unusually long incubation periods measured in years.

  • From 1995 through June 2002, a total of 124 human cases of VCJD were reported in the United Kingdom, 6 cases in France, and 1 case each in Ireland, Italy, and the United States. The case-patients from Ireland and the United States had each lived in the United Kingdom for more than 5 years.

  • Milk and milk products from cows are not believed to pose any risk for transmitting the BSE agent.

  • Staying alert to U.S. government warnings during times of outbreak is very important. The U.S. government will say if avoiding beef all together is necessary.

  • Selecting beef, such as solid pieces of muscle meat (versus calf brains or beef products such as burgers and sausages), which might have a reduced opportunity for contamination with tissues that may harbor the BSE agent.

Symptoms of VCJD

  • The duration of CJD from the onset of symptoms to the inevitable death is usually one year; however, shorter duration periods of several months are common, and longer duration periods of two or more years have been noted.

  • The initial stage of the disease can be subtle with ambiguous symptoms of:
    • Insomnia
    • Depression
    • Confusion
    • Personality and behavioral changes
    • Strange physical sensations
    • Problems with memory, coordination and sight

  • As the disease advances, the patient experiences a rapidly, progressive dementia and in most cases, involuntary and irregular jerking movements known as myoclonus.

  • Problems with language, sight, muscular weakness, and coordination worsen. The patient may appear startled and become rigid.

  • In the final stage of the disease, the patient loses all mental and physical functions. The patient may lapse into a coma and usually dies from an infection like pneumonia precipitated by the bedridden, unconscious state.

Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/fact/cjd.htm (The Center for Disease Control Web site) and http://cjdfoundation.org/CJDInfo.html (The Creutxfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation Web site)


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