Mad Cow FAQ – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

With the furor over a new case of Mad Cow disease, we thought it would be great to answer some common questions about the current situation.

What is Mad Cow?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as Mad Cow disease, is a prion disease. Prions are “weird mutant proteins” found in the spinal cord and brain of animals. Prion diseases have an impact by slowly destroying the brain tissue of the infected organism. BSE is transmissible to humans and can cause the human version of the disease, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Prions were discovered in the 1980s and are still largely a mystery to scientists.

Why are we hearing about this now?

The reason that Mad Cow has once again emerged on a national level is that USDA announced it found a cow with the disease. The cow in question was a dairy cow and the disease was discovered as part of the agency’s testing protocols. This is the fourth case of BSE confirmed in the United States and the first in six years.

What does this case of Mad Cow mean to me?

While a diagnosis of Mad Cow may cause alarm, officials from USDA have assured the public that there is no danger from this case. The cow, a dairy cow, never entered the food supply and BSE cannot be transmitted in milk. USDA asserts its continued confidence in the US meat supply. For right now there’s no reason to change consumption habits.