A fast, practical BSE test

24 October 2005

Genesis Bioventures Inc, USA, recently entered into an agreement that will give them a controlling interest in Prion Developmental Laboratories (PDL), a private company. PDL, in turn, have a USDA-approved rapid strip test for Chronic Wasting disease which affects deer and elk. Using the same technology, they have also developed a rapid strip test for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). Once approved, the test would be utilised at the 'point of kill' in slaughterhouses to test for BSE. The cost is reasonable so testing every animal would be feasible. GBI's test would cost around $14 per animal, an increase of about 1.5 cents per pound of beef if the cost was passed directly to consumers. Blanket testing would go a long way toward assuring both consumers and the cattle industry that US beef is safe. Consumer advocates have long argued that the US response to BSE has been inadequate. The US currently carries out far less testing than other countries. Japan tests every animal more than 20 months old; Europe tests one out of every four animals. 45 million cattle are slaughtered annually in the US and only about 300,000 are tested. That is one of the reasons why countries closed their borders to US beef. Fears associated with BSE have devastated the cattle industry in North America. Losses are estimated at $30 billion for Canada and the US. Evidence shows a relationship between outbreaks in Europe of BSE and a disease in humans called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Both disorders are fatal brain diseases. Transmission of the BSE agent to humans, leading to vCJD, is believed to occur via ingestion of cattle products contaminated with the BSE agent. While the incidence of vCJD appears to have peaked in 1999, the future of this disease is uncertain.

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