Fifteen years ago Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was causing havoc in the EU. This fatal, neurodegenerative disease of cattle seemed both incomprehensible and unstoppable, but today many countries are looking to eradicate it once and for all, writes Adam Anson, TheCattleSite.
The peak for BSE was registered in 1992 in the UK, when 36,680 cases were reported. Panic ensued when it was discovered that humans that ate infected cattle meat could develop an equally horrific variant of the disease known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD). In all 4.4 million cattle were subsequently slaughtered during an eradication programme, but the long incubation period of the disease meant that it had time to hide in all corners of the world. Consequences of the epidemic are still being felt.
Since 1989, cases of BSE have been reported in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Falkland Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. However, the BSE epidemic rapidly declined in the European Union (EU) immediately after 1992.
Even today the origin of this misfolded prion protein disease remains officially unknown, but a British enquiry concluded that the epidemic was most likely caused by feeding cattle meat and bone meal (MBM).
As understanding of the disease grows, the number of cases recorded across the world falls. According to figures from World Animal Health (OIE), in 2008 eleven countries identified cases of BSE in farmed cattle. The UK reported the most at 33, then Spain at 25. Ireland reported 23 cases, Portugal 18, France recorded eight and Canada reported four. In 2007, 15 countries reported cases of BSE, with one country -- the UK -- reporting 53 cases alone, but this is a far cry from the 36,682 recorded in 1992.
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