Ten years of BSE The mad cow disease seems defeated

Ten years of BSE The mad cow disease seems defeated / Health News

Ten years BSE: The mad cow disease seems to be defeated. A spread of the disease could be prevented.


Exactly ten years ago, on November 24, 2000, BSE was first detected in a German cow. Today, mad cow disease is almost defeated. With only two cases last year, BSE is also a thing of the past for the Association of German Cattle Breeders, as Managing Director Norbert Wirtz explained in Bonn.

BSE first occurred in Germany ten years ago
After the first appearance of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Germany in the year 2000 on the farm of Peter Lorenzen in Hörsten in Schleswig-Holstein, a veritable hysteria broke out. Because the pathogen can pass from cattle to humans and is thought to trigger a new variant of the fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (now known as nvCJD), both health authorities and consumers have been alarmed accordingly. Experts feared an epidemic with tens of thousands of victims, Federal Minister of Health Andrea Fischer and Federal Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke (both SPD) had to resign and numerous products from "T-bone steak" on calf brain and salami to gummy bears (with contained gelatin from cattle) were suddenly as a health risk. The former Institute for Health Consumer Protection warned against the „Consumption of beef and beef sausage“, The beef market collapsed and many farmers were threatened. In addition to the development of a rapid test for the diagnosis of the dangerous epidemic, the identification of the causes of BSE was at the center of public interest.

Mystery solved for BSE
Today, science has long since solved the key puzzles of BSE. Accordingly, the disease was first detected in 1984 in a bovine in England. The animal exhibited inexplicable symptoms such as disorientation, agility, and aggression, and in the post-mortem examination, veterinarians found that the brain of the bovine was holey like a sponge. They discovered the abnormally folded prion proteins characteristic of BSE, which in a kind of chain reaction trigger a fateful biochemical process that causes certain endogenous proteins to also accept and clump an abnormal fold. In the course of the disease deep holes in the tissue and the affected brain takes a spongy perforated structure with filamentous, protein-containing deposits. The process will increasingly affect brain function as the disease progresses.

After the disease was unequivocally diagnosed for the first time, the question remained as to the causes and spread of BSE. The scientists came relatively quickly to the so-called animal meal on the track that accumulates as a residue in the processing of meat and the recovery of dead and diseased animals. Animal meal was then used very widely for the fattening of cattle, with critics even before the onset of BSE the unnatural diet of the actually vegetarian cattle complained. About the animal meal, the defective prions are said to have transferred from sheep to cattle. Because unlike viruses and bacteria, prions can be killed only from a heat of more than 133 degrees and a pressure of three bar. However, when processing the animal meal, this was often not heated enough so that the prions could transfer to the cattle. Since 2001, because of this risk of transmission - and not because cows that eat sheep are unnatural - the use of meat-and-bone meal is banned in the EU. Since then, the number of new infections has dropped drastically. „It is clear that the feeding of meat-and-bone meal and animal fat caused the disease“, said Martin Groschup, head of the Institute for new and novel animal infectious agents at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute on the island of Riems near Greifswald.

The UK was hit hardest by the BSE epidemic
The country most affected by the epidemic was Great Britain, where, according to official figures, around 180,000 cattle became ill with BSE. „BSE has not caused the German cattle breeding so much as the British, where half of the cattle stock was culled“, stressed the head of the association of the working group German cattle breeder Norbert Wirtz. Nevertheless, many cattle keepers would have given up. About one in three BSE found on his farm was out of business today. Because „according to EU regulations, all animals that had taken the same infectious feed had to be killed“, as Martin Groschup explained. As a result, the affected owners mostly lost their entire herd of cattle in one fell swoop, with 251 infected cattle having been identified at different farms in Germany by the end of 2002, with corresponding consequences for the breeders.

According to the Federal Agriculture Ministry, more than 20 million cattle were tested for BSE from 1 January 2001 to 30 September 2010 in Germany and 406 BSE cases were documented. At the same time, all 166 cattle were killed on the farm of Peter Lorenzen, but Lorenzen did not give up and started again with the compensation from the animal disease fund. However, farmer lives today from dairy cow husbandry. In any case, the German beef market collapsed sharply during the crisis and significant market share was lost to the poultry sector. According to the Federal Agriculture Ministry, the per capita consumption in Germany in 2000 was 14 kilograms of beef, slumped in 2001 to only 9.9 kilograms and is now around 12.5 kilograms.

The mass skipping of the disease on humans has failed
The feared mass-epidemic by the skipping of the illness on humans did not occur contrary to the original fears. However, there were 200 deaths from a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), particularly in the United Kingdom (174 cases) and France (25 cases). And according to Michael Beekes, working group leader in the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, „considered secure“ is that the pathogen causing BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is the same. According to Beekes, the estimated incubation period until the appearance of the new Creutzfeldt-Jakob variant in humans is between 10 and 15 years. Therefore „It is not excluded that further illnesses occur in humans“, but with the introduction of rapid test before processing the beef, the transmission risk has been minimized. In addition, the prevalence of BSE in Europe has declined so much that experts are already discussing the abolition of tests. Today, only animals that are at least 48 months old are tested in Germany and a number of other EU Member States. According to the European Commission, the epidemic in Europe is almost over and was far more lenient than many experts had suspected. But for the food industry, BSE remains one of the biggest scandals Germany and Europe have experienced so far. (Fp)

Picture credits: Alexander Litke