Whether its mad cow disease, pink slime or Avian bird flu, something is definitely not right. Could it be that the overuse of antibiotics is causing yet another strange health outbreak? About 23,000 people die each year in the U.S. from the overuse of antibiotics, though most antibiotics are fed to livestock. Now, Brazil’s agricultural ministry is investigating a new atypical mad cow disease case a year after several countries banned Brazilian beef imports due to concerns about contamination.
During a routine visit to a slaughter house in Mato Grosso, veterinarians found an animal that is suspected of having neurological problems similar to those which previously have been named the disease, ‘mad cow,’ or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
It is a transmissible, slowly progressive, degenerative, and fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of adult cattle. A human version of mad cow disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), is likely caused by eating beef products contaminated with central nervous system tissue, such as brain and spinal cord from cattle that have mad cow disease.
Currently, tests are under way to determine what BSE the animal has, and 2012 tests showed that another animal died in the state of Parana. It had developed the proteins, which signify mad cow disease, even though the cow never developed symptoms of the disease and was said to have died form natural causes. This particular case was thought to have been caused by a ‘spontaneous’ contraction of BSE, instead of being contaminated through the food supply.
Usually, mad cow disease happens when animals are fed brain or other spinal tissue of infected animals, which is forbidden in almost all countries, including Brazil. Regardless, the World Health Organization maintains that Brazil is a high risk for contaminated meat due to its 2012 case and tests which were conducted in England. This caused South Korea, Egypt, and China to ban Brazilian meat in their countries.
Agricultural organizations, including the Center for Food Safety, have asked the U.S. FDA to halt antibiotic use in fuel byproduct sold as animal feed, since this, too has been linked to BSE. This is meant to stop the overuse of antibiotics on farms, but despite the ready-availability of effective alternatives, ethanol producers widely use antibiotics as a tool to manage bacterial outbreaks in their fermentation vats, and then sell antibiotic-laden corn mash (animal feed). This is called “distillers grains with solubles” (DGS). Not only do animals receive non-medical doses of antibiotics through DGA, but also in their drinking water. This is likely leading to a prevalence of ‘super bugs,’ or antibiotic-resistant strains of disease.
As this document details:
“For half a century, antibiotics have given us a powerful way to treat infections that once were life threatening. Yet, the growing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is putting this golden era of medicine at risk. Now, we find ourselves in a race to prevent bacterial infections from once again becoming one of humanity’s major killers.”