Then There’s Mad Cow Disease

Foot and mouth disease isn’t the only illness plaguing livestock in Europe. BSE, otherwise known as “mad cow” disease, has resulted in the slaughter of about 178,000 cattle in the U.K. alone since 1988. While BSE is not an airborne disease, it can be transmitted to cattle that are given feed processed with elements of infected animals. The disease resides in the spinal column and destroys the nervous system of infected animals. Humans can catch it from eating ground beef or other meat products cut with the bone of an infected animal. In March, the U.S. had a scare of BSE when it was suspected among a flock of sheep in Vermont, but the animals were found to be BSE-free.

Food catalogers in the U.S. aren’t worried that BSE could spread to the U.S. “My concerns about mad cow are minimal,” says Michael Satztow, president of Claremont, NH-based meats cataloger North Country Smokehouse. “The government has taken significant steps, such as banning the cross-feeding of animal feed in 1988, to assure the industry that meat-eaters are protected.” Satzow says his company uses only free-farm pork, which is free from antibiotics and fed only vegetarian feed.

In fact, a potential benefit for stateside food mailers is that the U.S. is banning most European meat imports. Diane O’Connor, president of Macedonia, OH-based cataloger Creative Irish Gifts, says that one of her Irish vendors has had to restrict certain products. “They cannot export anything containing meat products, such as gravies or soup mixes,” she says. (Satzow notes that full cooked meats such as Polish hams can still be imported.)

Satzow is more worried about the spread of foot and mouth disease to the States. “We can only pray that the USDA is doing everything it can to prevent the disease from coming into this country,” he says. “The effects would be catastrophic. For one, I wouldn’t be able to get raw product. And it would have a snowball effect: First the farmers would be affected, then the banks, and then it would affect every aspect of society.”

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