This sadly remembered disease is making a comeback among our neighbors across the Channel

This sadly remembered disease is making a comeback among our neighbors across the Channel
This sadly remembered disease is making a comeback among our neighbors across the Channel

A case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as “mad cow disease“, was detected on a Scottish farm. Recalling a major health crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, this isolated case has rekindled concerns around this neurodegenerative disease transmissible to humans. Very quickly, the strict surveillance and control measures put in place seem to have enabled rapid and effective detection, explains The Mirror.

The British health authorities want to be reassuring. The monitoring system worked and the infected animal has not entered the food chain. The precautionary measures taken also limit the risks of spread. However, the discovery of this case rekindles the debate on this disease and the risks it can still represent.

The story of mad cow

Mad cow disease has left its mark on the history of the United Kingdom and, more broadly, of the global food industry. Appeared in the 1980s, BSE is a bovine neurodegenerative disease caused by a prion, an atypical and very resistant infectious agent.. The cause of its occurrence has been attributed to the use of contaminated animal meal in livestock feed. This practice, common at the time, favored the spread of the disease within the British herd.

The health crisis reached its peak whena link has been established between BSE and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans. This rare and deadly form of the disease has affected over 170 people in the UK, causing a shock wave and deep distrust among consumers regarding British beef. The export of British beef has been banned by many countries for several years.

Strict control measures put in place since the mad cow crisis

Since the health crisis of the 1990s, the British authorities have implemented strict control measures to limit the risks of spreading BSE. Animal feed based on animal meal was banned and reinforced surveillance systems were implemented. These measures made it possible a drastic reduction in the number of BSE cases. Only five classic cases of BSE have been recorded in the UK since 2014, including one recently detected in Scotland.

The discovery of this isolated case does not call into question the effectiveness of the control measures. On the contrary, the speed of its detection demonstrates their proper functioning. The movement restrictions put in place around the affected farm and the slaughter of animals in contact with the infected animal limit the risks of spread. In addition, the exclusion of certain parts of the animal (vertebral column, brain, skull) deemed to be more at risk from the human food chain continues to be applied.

Reinforced vigilance

While this BSE case does not call into question the safety of British beef, it highlights the need for continued vigilance. British and European health authorities have assured the population of their commitment to maintaining strict controls and surveillance measures in place. Ian McWatt, deputy chief executive of Food Standards Scotland, a Scottish food safety agency, said:it is important to reassure consumers. Strict controls are in place to protect consumers from the risk of BSE, including controls on animal feed and the removal of parts of livestock most likely to carry BSE infectiology.

Even if the risk seems low for the moment, this new episode of mad cow disease highlights the importance of maintaining biosecurity measures and scientific research to better understand this disease and its causes.

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