Mad cow disease: The facts you need to know as new case of BSE discovered on Scottish farm

‘Precautionary movement restrictions’ put in place at site in Aberdeenshire

Tom Parfitt
Thursday 18 April 2019 13:39
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What is mad cow disease?

A case of mad cow disease, also known as BSE, has been detected on a farm in Scotland.

A statement issued by Scottish authorities said “precautionary movement restrictions” had been put in place at the farm in Aberdeenshire.

The SNP’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Be assured that the Scottish government and its partners stand ready to respond to any further confirmed cases of the disease in Scotland.”

Here is everything you need to know about mad cow disease.

What is mad cow disease?

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a disease that attacks the brain and central nervous system of adult cattle. Mad cow disease, which is thought to be caused by proteins called prions, was first discovered in the UK in 1986 and has been found in an additional 24 countries since.

The epidemic in Britain reached its peak in 1993, with almost 1,000 new cases being reported every week.

A subsequent ban was placed on British beef exports to Europe, which was not lifted until 2006. The last known case of BSE in the UK was on a Welsh farm in 2015.

How dangerous is mad cow disease to humans?

BSE can be passed to humans who have eaten infected meat. By 2014, the disease had killed 177 people in the UK and 52 elsewhere, mostly in western Europe.

However, the case detected in Aberdeenshire today is a case of classical BSE, so poses no harm to human health. Ian McWatt, the director of operations at Food Standards Scotland, said: “There are strict controls in place to protect consumers from the risk of BSE, including controls on animal feed, and removal of the parts of cattle most likely to carry BSE infectivity.”

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A ban on the use of high risk offal for human consumption was introduced in 1989, leading many to fear eating burgers. But the following year, John Gummer, the then-agriculture minister, claimed beef was “completely safe” and appeared on TV trying to get his four-year-old daughter to eat a beefburger.

What are the symptoms of mad cow disease?

According to the World Health Organisation, humans infected with mad cow disease usually experience “depression, apathy or anxiety”. Victims have difficulty walking and controlling their limbs. By the time of death victims are “completely immobile and mute”.

Symptoms in cattle typically include a lack of co-ordination and aggression, leading the condition to be known as mad cow disease.

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