It’s been six years since there was an officially diagnosed case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (more well-known as “mad cow disease”) in the United States, but a recent confirmation out of the state of California has prompted at least one major importer to temporarily suspend the sale of US beef. South Korea is one of the largest importers of US beef. In fact, they brought well over 100,000 tons of it in during 2010. Their customers are certainly anxious over the whole situation, and with a fair amount of good cause. Their government has stated that it is going to step up checks on US beef imports.
How does this affect the average US consumer? Well, it’s a little much to halting all beef consumption. The single cow that was confirmed was never intended to be used in any way for human consumption. It was never exposed to BSE via animal feed, which is how the original outbreaks in the 80’s and 90’s began. Legislation has passed that prevents other animals from being ground up and used as part of feed for cattle.
What people should be concerned about however is the general state of factory farming of cattle in the US. Both dairy and beef cattle are subjected to some of the worst environments, and loaded with so many antibiotics it’s a wonder that there aren’t more outbreaks of food borne illnesses. In regard to “mad cow disease” however, there doesn’t appear to be any reason to fear. Officials told CNN that this is an “atypical case” and that sometimes it’s genetic. The CDC estimates that the odds of a human contracting mad cow disease are less than 1 in 10 billion.