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Is the BSE back?

New case on a farm in the Netherlands. Still to be verified whether it is an atypical or classic type of BSE

It hadn't been talked about for years now. That is, until a new case of mad cow disease emerged from the Netherlands. Not many details are available at the moment, except that the infection was found on a dead cattle specimen on a farm at an unspecified Dutch location. The news was broken yesterday by the NPC news agency, but the discovery dates back two days earlier, to Jan. 30. The source would be the Dutch minister of health, Piet Adema.

The infection is now being studied by experts in the field to determine whether it is a so-called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) of the atypical or classical type, i.e., whether it was caused by the old age of the animal or instead was caused by contaminated feed.

The mad cow epidemic, spread across Europe in the 1990s, starting in the United Kingdom. It is a neurodegenerative disease that has as its inevitable outcome the death of the infected animal. The disease is capable of creating real holes in the cows' encephalon, making it resemble a sponge in appearance (hence the adjective "spongiform"). 

The incubation period in an animal can last three to five years and is completely asymptomatic. The first case of BSE was actually detected in the United Kingdom in 1986 (so exactly ten years before the outbreak) on a farm in Hampshire, where the central veterinary laboratory in Weybridge was alarmed by an animal with a worrisome clinical picture.

The spread of mad cow disease has been linked to the use of meat meal in UK but, in particular, to the process of producing the meal itself. In fact, potentially dangerous when not carcinogenic solvents were used to obtain them. The solvent-based process was then replaced with a pressure process, but this did not allow sufficient temperatures to be reached to completely eliminate pathogens, as solvents were able to do. Meat and bones from the corpses of diseased cattle were in fact often used in meat-based meals.

Despite the wave of alarm that swept the sector in the early 2000s, after more than 25 years the suspected cases of death throughout Europe amount to 207 people, of which over 160 in the UK alone.

The processing of beef is still subject to strict procedures today to prevent parts of the animals' brain and spinal cord from ending up in the products sold on the market.

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EFA News - European Food Agency