The few recent cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or 'mad cow disease' in the U.S. and Canada should not cause panic among consumers and producers because they are "isolated incidents," says Andrew Speedy, an animal production expert with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a recent statement.
FAO emphasizes a need for a science-based approach to ensure that the disease is kept out of unaffected countries. According to FAO, identification of animals by the use of ear tags or electronic systems, national registration and movement records, compulsory testing of suspect animals, and general awareness, especially among producers and their veterinarians, are all part of essential control measures. Incentives may need to be given to encourage detection of suspect cases.
Speedy notes that the public still had a lot of misconceptions about BSE and the steps taken to prevent it. "There is still some lack of understanding about BSE and how it can be detected and controlled," says Speedy. Speedy also notes that universal testing was a waste of resources. "There is no point in testing all animals in slaughterhouses, because most of them are too young to detect the disease," he says.
FAO is working with Swiss experts to train people/veterinary staff in other countries, including Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Near East, in methods of diagnosis, surveillance and prevention.
Switzerland's prevention measures were highlighted by FAO for their effectiveness, due to its drastic reduction of BSE cases over a 14-year period. Switzerland's system of cattle identification and registration, scientific testing, preventative measures in the rendering and animal feed industry and support throughout the food chain has yielded positive results.
The FAO release also emphasized the importance of overlapping and redundant prevention measures for BSE, which are equivalent to the U.S. "firewalls" against BSE.