What are the risks of contracting mad cow from eating ground beef?



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    The risk of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease from “mad cow” ground beef and hamburgers is thought to be lower in the US than in Britain and other countries, basically because we kill out cows so young that they don’t often reach 30 months, the age after which cows are susceptable to mad cow. In fact, you’re much more likely to get E. coli from beef, especially if you’re eating burgers and keeping the center rare, which is where most pathogens end up. However, we are not completely safe: meat from bulls and dairy cows that are far older than 30 months gets mixed in to US meat, as well as imported meat, and we test only one-tenth of one percent of cows. Britain, on the other hand, now tests one hundred percent of the adult cows that are killed, and refuses to use any cows that are unable to walk (a symptom of mad cow). It is in fact illegal for a ground-beef company in the US to test all of it’s own meat: this is a job for the farms or the USDA!

    A great way to avoid Cruetzfeldt-Jacob disease is to buy organic and from farmer’s markets. One of the big reasons cows contract the disease is that they are fed other cows (even where feeding cows meat has been outlawed, some calves are still fed cow blood), and waste from animals that eat cows. This isn’t natural; bovines are primarily vegetarians. If all the cows on a farm have been eating grass, mad cow should never be a problem. And when a smaller farm kills and processes it’s cows one or two at a time, they are not using the large-scale processes that often allows spinal-cord tissue to end up in the meat.

    Source: pg. 230-1, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

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