Decline In Mad Cow Disease Cases

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COLUMBIA -The number of cows diagnosed with mad cow disease is on the way down. Ron Plain, a University of Missouri Extension economist said 20 years ago there were 30,000 cattle worldwide diagnosed with BSE per year, compared to only 29 cattle last year.

Cattle in the state of California caught the eyes of farmers across the country last month, after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in a dairy cow. The latest case is one of only four ever confirmed cases nationwide. Beef producers defend their animals saying the case is not yet a reason for consumers to worry.

Chuck Miller is a local farmer and beef producer in Columbia. Everyday he goes to his farm after work to feed and take care of his cattle. "These animals, they are business for us. it's always a lifestyle, but in any business you take care of the things that make you money and animals when they are healthy they make us good money" said Miller.

Mad cow disease is often the term used for BSE- bovine spongiform encephalopathy- a neurological disorder in cattle. Miller said the term mad cow is often misused and can shake consumer confidence. "The cow is not really mad. The cow is just not ambulatory, therefore unable to stand" said Miller.

After the first case in 2003, the USDA imposed strict regulations to keep BSE infected cattle from entering the food supply. Nervous system tissue: the brain, spinal cord, nerves and tonsils, were banned from being used in food in 2004 by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. The disease is more likely to be concentrated in these parts of the animal's body. 

Plain said the primary concern to people's health is there is a similar disease for humans. However he says the risk of contracting the disease is low. "If you are in the U.S. this doesn't make it a top 5 causes of death.. So far, no one is dying from eating beef from cattle with BSE."

Farmers say they check their cattle everyday and provide them with the necessary care. "Feel good about the beef you get in the United States" Miller said.