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U.S. mad cow case sparks debate over safety of milk consumption

2012/04/26 22:31:21

Taipei, April 26 (CNA) Department of Health officials and academics were divided Thursday on whether people's health can be affected by drinking milk from animals infected with mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), following the discovery of a new case in the U.S. this week.

Citing a report by the World Health Organization that concludes prions, infectious proteins carried by BSE-infected animals, do not exist in milk, Department of Health Deputy Minister Hsiao Mei-ling said at a press conference that the milk from BSE-infected animals is safe for human consumption.

Since 1997, the United States has banned the use of adding recycled meat and bone meal from cows into cattle feed -- a practice thought to be the cause of BSE, she added.

As a result, the number of confirmed cases of BSE in cows in the U.S. has reduced significantly, she said.

Hsiao said that the Taiwan government will step up inspections on beef factories in the U.S. after a new case of mad cow disease was discovered in a dairy cow in California.

Taiwan has the authority to inspect beef factories in the U.S. as part of the agreement which allows the lifting of the ban on imports of U.S. bone-in beef in 2006.

Mad cow disease is fatal to cows and can cause a fatal brain disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) -- the human version of mad cow disease in people who eat tainted beef.

Meanwhile, despite officials' reassurance on the safety of dairy products, a number of doctors said a more advanced test developed for mad cow disease has shown results that contradict the department's claim.

Chen Sheng-shun, honorary vice president of the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital Kaohsiung Branch, said a Swiss scientist developed in 2007 a more accurate test for mad cow disease that found prion related proteins (PrPC), a precursor of the pathological prion proteins, in the milk of BSE-infected animals.

The precursor cannot be completely eliminated even when heated to extreme high temperatures, Chen said.

This evidence suggests that stricter quality standards should be applied to diary products, he said.

Chiang Shou-shan, a nephrologist at Shin-Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital, also urged the government to adopt stricter safety standards on beef and dairy products.

He said domestic cases of classic CJD have risen considerably since the government lifted the ban on U.S. in-bone beef imports.

Since classic CJD --unrealted to beef consumption-- shows similar symptoms to vCJD, this rise of classic CJD cases in Taiwan may be due to a mistaken diagnosis of vCJD, he said.

He urged authorities to probe more deeply into this matter.

(By Justin Su, Chen Ching-fang and Ann Chen)