Nevada Ranchers Feel Less Impact of Mad Cow Disease

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Nevada ranchers are faring better than expected after the first case of mad cow disease in the United States, state officials said.

"We're in a free fall, but not as far as most of the industry thought," said Ron Torell, a University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension livestock specialist.

"We're going to weather this storm, and one way is to become educated," he added.

Torell and state veterinarian David Thain gave an update on the situation to nearly 150 people last week at the Elko Convention Center.

Thain said cattlemen associations helped minimize the hysteria with their quick response as word spread that the disease had hit the country. The lone infected cow turned up last month in Washington state.

"We haven't seen consumers scared to death. Generally, the hysteria has been kept in hand," Thain said, adding there's an extremely low health risk to the public.

Preston Wright, president of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, said he thinks the public would have panicked a decade ago, but it hasn't today.

"People have gotten a little more sophisticated," he told the Elko Daily Free Press. "I've been pleased with the resilience of the market and the demand."

Chances are very slim that any Nevada cattle are infected, Wright stressed.

The meat and bone feed that triggers the disease's spread has been banned since 1997 in the country, although compliance wasn't 100 percent.

"Range cattle generally are not eating those kinds of feed," Wright said, adding coyotes dispose of cattle that die.

Cattle prices last week in Texas, Kansas and Chicago markets sold in the range of $74 to $78 per hundredweight, down from a $90 range a few weeks ago.

While the market hasn't fallen as much as expected, ranchers will see impacts other than lower beef prices, Thain said.

They include new Agriculture Department regulations that dying cows can't be processed into the food chain, which could have a $75 million to $100 million impact, he said.

Ranchers also would have to pay for disposing dying cows, which could cost another $50 million to $100 million.

Rachel Buzzetti, executive director of the cattlemen's association, said most Nevada ranchers sold calves for the year before prices dropped, and there has been little impact to the industry.

"Consumers are listening to people they buy beef from," she said. Extended Web Coverage

Mad Cow Disease

What is Mad Cow Disease?

  • Mad cow, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is a disease found in cattle. Found in humans it is named Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (VCJD).

What is Mad cow (BSE)?

  • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is a progressive neurological disorder.

  • The disease can be transmitted between cattle when infected meat is digested by the animal.

  • The disease has now cure in cattle.

Transmission to Humans

  • Although the risk is very small, humans can contract the disease, which is known as VCJD.

  • The disease is fatal and causes brain disorders with unusually long incubation periods measured in years.

  • From 1995 through June 2002, a total of 124 human cases of VCJD were reported in the United Kingdom, 6 cases in France, and 1 case each in Ireland, Italy, and the United States. The case-patients from Ireland and the United States had each lived in the United Kingdom for more than 5 years.

  • Milk and milk products from cows are not believed to pose any risk for transmitting the BSE agent.

  • Staying alert to U.S. government warnings during times of outbreak is very important. The U.S. government will say if avoiding beef all together is necessary.

  • Selecting beef, such as solid pieces of muscle meat (versus calf brains or beef products such as burgers and sausages), which might have a reduced opportunity for contamination with tissues that may harbor the BSE agent.

Symptoms of VCJD

  • The duration of CJD from the onset of symptoms to the inevitable death is usually one year; however, shorter duration periods of several months are common, and longer duration periods of two or more years have been noted.

  • The initial stage of the disease can be subtle with ambiguous symptoms of:
    • Insomnia
    • Depression
    • Confusion
    • Personality and behavioral changes
    • Strange physical sensations
    • Problems with memory, coordination and sight

  • As the disease advances, the patient experiences a rapidly, progressive dementia and in most cases, involuntary and irregular jerking movements known as myoclonus.

  • Problems with language, sight, muscular weakness, and coordination worsen. The patient may appear startled and become rigid.

  • In the final stage of the disease, the patient loses all mental and physical functions. The patient may lapse into a coma and usually dies from an infection like pneumonia precipitated by the bedridden, unconscious state.

Sources: (The Center for Disease Control Web site) and (The Creutxfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation Web site)