The first appearance in the United States of the cattle-killing ailment known as mad cow disease has rocked the beef industry and raised fears of an outbreak of a similar deadly brain disease in people. However, the threat to both people and animals in the United States remains low as long as the government enforces specific feed-processing and slaughter regulations, risk analysts say.
The most crucial safeguard, according to the researchers, is a ban put in place in 1997 that prohibits feeding potentially infective animal parts to cattle. That practice, which provided cheap protein for animal feed, is the main route of transmission of the misshapen proteins that cause mad cow disease, which is formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The proteins, called prions, may spread when animals consume brain, spinal cord tissue, bone particles, eyes, and small intestines of infec