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Brain Wasting Diseases: Public Health, Regulatory, Economic Issues


CHICAGO, June 29 -- Developments in testing methods and effective risk management are important to the ultimate fate of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies like BSE (Mad Cow Disease) according to the latest report by the Institute of Food Technologists, issued this week and providing a timely, comprehensive review of the research on and status of these brain-wasting diseases.

The reportís assessment of the current state of scientific, regulatory and public health issues takes into account the positive test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy on U.S. cattle confirmed last week, and should be utilized as a sound knowledge base on the topic of brain wasting disease. It can be read in the latest issue of Journal of Food Science at

The report states that the first evidence of TSE diagnosis was recorded in Europe in sheep more than 250 years ago, though the disease was not considered transmissible until the 1930s. BSE was singled out as a new disease after observing erratic cattle behavior in Britain in 1984.

TSEs are inhibited to varying degrees from spreading from one species to another, including humans. Incubation time varies and can take years. As exposure increases, the incubation period decreases, and vice versa. Caused by abnormally shaped protein called prions, the origin of TSEs is not fully understood. There is no cure.

BSE has been detected in more than 182,000 cattle in the United Kingdom, and in more than 3,800 cattle in many other countries including the U.S. and Canada. Its destructive prions are detected in the intestine, tonsils and central nervous system. No infective prions have been found in milk or muscle in either naturally occurring BSE cases or experiments.

Atypical cases of BSE discovered in France and Italy suggest a new form of TSE, deemed bovine amyloidotic spongiform encephalopathy (BASE), may not share its origin with BSE.

Scrapie is generally thought to be the most widespread of all TSE disease, having infected thousands of animals throughout most of the world. No evidence to date shows scrapie can transfer to humans, but popular theory deems it the origin of Mad Cow disease in Europe.

Some sheep have been found resistant to scrapie, and the knowledge is being used to design breeding programs to control its spread.

The report notes expert opinion suggesting the United Kingdomís BSE epidemic is near its end and will not return.

IFT has published Scientific Status Summaries for more than 30 years on topics including foodborne diease, biotechnology, organically grown foods, irradiation, parasites, food allergies, viruses transmitted by food, low-calorie food, and more. See for these reports.

Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, USA, the Institute of Food Technologists is a not-for- profit international scientific society with 26,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues. For more on IFT, see


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