The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 36.0°F | A Few Clouds

U.S. Import of British Cattle In 80s Show No Signs of BSE

By Daniel P. Puzo
Los Angeles Times

About 500 head of British beef cattle were imported to the United States for breeding during the 1980s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which nevertheless reaffirms that mad cow disease is isolated in Britain.

There is no evidence that any of the 113 imported animals still alive carry bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, which has been linked to the onset of Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease in humans in Britain.

The cattle industry there has been under siege since a report linked 10 cases of the fatal brain disorder to individuals who may have consumed contaminated beef.

The British-born animals are scattered throughout the United States. The majority are located in Alabama, Texas, New York and Vermont, and have been cross-bred with domestic cows. There is no way of knowing whether those animals carry the disease, since only post-slaughter laboratory examinations can identify it.

USDA veterinarians inspect the known remaining British cattle every six months and have found "no indication that they are infected with BSE," an agency spokeswoman said.

No quarantine is planned.

Between 1981 and 1989, there were 499 head of cattle imported from Britain. Of that total, 343 are known to be dead; eight have been exported to Mexico and Canada and 113 are still alive. The status of the remaining 35 animals is unknown, according to the USDA.

The 343 known-dead cattle were slaughtered for their meat, which was most likely sold to the public in the form of ground beef.

Beef industry representatives and federal officials insist that there have been no cases of mad cow disease - believed to be caused by a protein disorder - in this country.

The disease is thought to remain dormant in infected animals for as long as eight years before manifesting itself in erratic behavior, such as seizures.

According to the USDA, 2,700 brain tissue samples from U.S. cows exhibiting possible neurological problems during the 10-year period ending March 1996 have been analyzed. All were negative for BSE or any other brain disease.

Further complicating the issue is that scientists do not know how the disease is transmitted from animal to animal. Nor is it known conclusively that consumption of BSE-diseased meat can cause Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease in humans.