For the past few weeks, media coverage and consumer worries on
the first U.S. case of mad cow disease have caused some beef eaters
to think twice before they take a bite out of their next hamburger.
But University Residential Dining Services is not hesitating and
has no plans to change its meals or the procurement of its
In addition, University students and professorssay they have
very little concern in a predicament that they think the media have
blown out of proportion.
“At this point we haven’t received any information
that we should change anything,” said Steve Meyer, executive
chef of the University’s Culinary Research Center.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was found
in U.S. herds for the first time Dec. 23 in Washington when a cow
underwent farming tests which came up positive for BSE.
Although BSE cannot directly harm humans, coming in contact with
the prion — an unusual formation of a normal protein —
that causes BSE can result in variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or
VCJD, a fatal medical condition that causes the degeneration of the
Despite discovery of BSE contamination in U.S. herds, American
officials have said the food supply is safe and Americans are in no
danger of contracting the human form of the disease. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture last month issued new regulations such as
a ban on downer, or sick, animals from entering the food supply to
ensure the continued protection of meat.
Regardless of the government’s restrictions, Residential
Dining Services has not changed its procurement of meat.
Yet there is still a degree of uncertainty among some students
who worry about possible infection from mad cow disease and prefer
not to take the risk.
LSA freshman Lindsey Trainor said she decided to cut back on
meat, especially fast food.
“I don’t think it is a major threat yet, but
it’s a good habit to get into in case it gets worse,”
Trainor said. She added that she decided to primarily cut back on
fast food because it seemed to her the most likely place
contaminated meat could come from.
Media coverage has also expressed the same uncertainty about the
safety of the food supply. Concerns of the effectiveness of current
regulations and the possible spread of the disease to other farm
animals have further caused consumers to wonder if their next meal
is safe to eat.
But University medical professors said little danger exists of
anyone becoming infected with the disease.
Epidemiology Prof. Arnold Monto said he thinks the disease is
more of a veterinary problem.
“The (large) number of flu deaths compared to the (few)
number of deaths from mad cow disease doesn’t even
compare,” he said. “I think (the disease) has had more
of an impact on the economy than on public health.”
But he added that the disease is difficult to destroy-in already
contaminated meat and there are possible worries that younger
cattle still carry the disease, although he said the chances of
more cattle getting infected are low.
Epidemiology Prof. Mark Wilson said not only is there little
danger of contracting the disease but the media has overblown the
entire situation, making the risk of contracting the disease seem
much higher than it actually is.
“The probability of people in the U.S., who eat meat
regularly, of getting the disease, is infinitesimally small,”
Wilson explained that although it is difficult to evaluate the
risk of contracting the disease, there are a number of reasons why
being infected by the disease is impossible.
Wilson added that studies have shown the likely cause of VCJD in
humans is from eating the central nervous tissue from a bovine that
has the infection.
“First, if you eat meat you normally are not eating brain
or spinal cord or any of the central nervous tissue.” Since
the central nervous tissue is the only area of the cow infected
with the disease, consuming the rest of the meat would put you at
no risk of getting the disease, said Wilson.
But Wilson also said even if you do eat some nervous tissue,
chances are very low that it is infected. Even if you eat the meat
of an infected cow, you still may not get the disease, he
Because recent tests show that the food supply is not
contaminated with BSE, Wilson said proper meat preparation along
with genetic factors resist the disease in most people.
He also added that the spreading of the disease within cow herds
should not be possible since current regulations prohibit cows from
being fed cattle parts.
Chances of other farm animals contracting BSE are also low, he
“It’s not really clear if chickens or pigs can get
it. … As far as we can tell, the ground-up remains (of cows)
are not being fed to chickens or to pigs. And even if they were,
there is no evidence to show that they have the disease.”
Wilson added that people need to worry more about other food
But for most students, along with the risk of contracting
diarrhea from E. coli, heart disease and cancer from meat, even the
recent discovery of mad cow disease hasn’t deterred them from
enjoying a hamburger
“I’ve continued eating meat. I haven’t seen
enough evidence to stop eating meat,” LSA sophomore Greg
Haapala said, adding that he eats one or two hamburgers a week.
In fact, some students are convinced there is no real danger of
dying from mad cow disease.
“I get the impression the media is exaggerating it,”
LSA junior David Wintermute said.
From what he has seen and heard, he said the chances of getting
the disease are very slim. But he added that many news stories are
trying to make the danger of BSE more shocking than it seems.
“I see a news story exaggerating it by saying people
should be shocked (about the danger of contracting the disease),
but people really aren’t shocked. The media just won’t
leave it alone.”
Wendy’s spokesman Denny Lynch said according to his
figures most people aren’t shocked and continue to buy from
fast food restaurants.
“It doesn’t appear that the mad cow scare has had
any impact on Wendy’s sales. In fact, we announced that
average restaurant sales for company stores in December increased 9
percent over the same period in 2003. … In a relatively down
economy, we think those numbers are very strong.”
Most students however have other things on their mind and
don’t have time to worry about mad cow disease.
LSA sophomore Sarah Babka said, “There’s a risk in
everything you eat.” But she added she is not worried about
the disease. “There are all these other things to worry