The Lord of the Beef: a new beginning.
No doubt about it: The US is truly the “Lord of the beef”. There are a number of economic and nutritional implications directly related to this new “meat threat”..
The $175 billion dollar US beef industry was rocked last December 23 when the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a presumptive diagnosis of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow” disease) in an adult Holstein cow from Washington state.
BSE is a progressive neurological disorder of cattle that results from infection by an unconventional transmissible agent. The nature of this agent is currently unknown. The most accepted theory is that the agent is a modified form of a normal cell surface component known as prion protein.
From 1986 to 2001, more than 98% of BSE cases worldwide were reported from the UK, where the disease was first described. During this period, the number of countries reporting at least one indigenous case of BSE increased, almost all of them in Europe. In 2001, only two countries, the UK and Portugal, reported a BSE incidence rate of 100 indigenous cases per million cattle aged over 24 months. Although reported BSE rates must be interpreted with considerable caution, the reported BSE rates for other countries (in decreasing order) were as follows: Republic of Ireland (62 BSE cases per million), Switzerland (49 cases per million), Belgium (28), Spain (24), Germany (20), France (20), Slovakia (18), Italy (14), and the Netherlands (10). The reported rates for Denmark, Slovenia, Greece, the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, and Austria were between 1 and 7 BSE cases per million
In addition to the countries with confirmed BSE, 14 other countries had been classified by the European Union’s Scientific Steering Committee since June 2002 as likely having, or confirmed as having, BSE at a lower level. These countries included: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, San Marino Republic, Slovic Republic, and Turkey.
The infection agent which causes spongiform diseases in animals also causes a variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. CJD is a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurodegenerative disorder that occurs worldwide and the estimated annual incidence, in many countries, has been reported to be about one case per million population.
The majority of CJD patients usually die within 1 year of illness onset.
In about 85% of patients, CJD occurs as a sporadic disease with no recognizable pattern of transmission. A smaller proportion of patients (5 to 15%) develop CJD because of inherited mutations of the prion protein gene. These inherited forms include Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome and fatal familial insomnia.
As of December 1, 2003, a total of 153 vCJD cases had been reported worldwide; of these, 144 cases had occurred in the UK, 6 cases in France, and 1 case each in Ireland, Italy, and the US. The risk to human health from BSE in the US is still extremely low. The current risk of acquiring vCJD from eating beef (muscle meat) and beef products produced from cattle in countries with or at possibly increased risk of BSE cannot be precisely determined. Milk and milk products from cows are not believed to pose any risk for transmitting the BSE agent.
To reduce the possible current risk of acquiring vCJD from food, travelers to areas with indigenous cases of BSE or at possibly increased risk of BSE may wish to consider either:
(1) avoiding beef and beef products altogether or
(2) selecting beef or beef products, 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.
Which are the current implications of the arrival of BSE to the US ?
First of all, let’s point out few relevant facts and figures:
- Yearly beef consumption in the US was close to 40 kilograms per person in 2002.
- Beef is consumed 80 million times each day across the US.
- The US produces nearly 25% of the world’s beef supply.
- There are about 100 million cows in the US.
- The US beef industry is made up of more than one million businesses, farms and ranches.
No doubt about it: The US is truly the “Lord of the beef”.
There are a number of economic and nutritional implications directly related to this new “meat threat”. Shortly after the announcement of the USDA, immediate reactions were felt in Wall Street: beef trading stopped, restaurant stocks dropped and several countries suspended beef imports from American origin. About two-thirds of the $ 3 billion export market dried up, with Japan, South Korea and Mexico (the top three buyers) leading many more nations to shut the door to American beef products. In other countries where this disease has appeared in the recent past, scared consumers shunned beef and sent a financial shock for years throughout the food industry from farms to grocery stores.
for instance, was one of the companies that took an early hit from the news last week, with its stock value dropping more than 5% on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Wendy’s, Burger King, Outback Steakhouse Inc. and all the major beef-based franchises suffered similar loses.
This “carniphobia” opens a window of opportunities for promoting other protein sources, such as fish and poultry. In the UK for instance, after the BSE outbreak in the 90s, the consumption of beef products decreased significantly and more and more people considered vegetarianism as a way of life. If BSE keeps spreading over the US in the near future, we could expect a similar trend in eating habits.
Perhaps the economic repercussions of BSE in America will be catastrophic, a lot of people and businesses will be affected if the average consumer starts eating more fish and chicken instead of a big chunky steak. McDonald’s and private cardiologists will not be pleased as their clients start to decrease....
But there are two kind of species that will be really happy to see beef consumption decreasing in America for sure: Nutritionists and Cows.
Dr. Daniel Fuentes
México, December 28, 2003
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USDA, December 2003
Cattle-Fax, September 2002
Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta, Dec 23, 2003
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