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U.K. veterinarian: BSE outbreak was 'expensive lesson'

Cows at the Sunny Dene Ranch have been quarantined after a cow from the farm tested positive for mad cow disease.
Cows at the Sunny Dene Ranch have been quarantined after a cow from the farm tested positive for mad cow disease.

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Peter Jinman
Heidi Collins
Mad Cow Disease

(CNN) -- After the first reported U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease, public health officials attempted to track the infected cow's origins and where its meat went. Britain had its own struggles with mad cow, resulting in widespread bans on British beef and the destruction of millions of cattle.

Peter Jinman of the British Veterinary Association spoke with CNN anchor Heidi Collins about the lessons American officials can take from Britain's experience.

JINMAN: I think the most important thing to learn is to be open, to ensure that there is genuine openness in the discussion on this problem, because one thing that is required throughout it is good information, positive information, from government that people believe and understand.

And if you fail to engage with your market, the people who are eating the product, who understand the product, and have trust in the system, then you end up with major, major problems.

COLLINS: How well-informed do you think the United States and consumers in general are at this point?

JINMAN: I wouldn't wish to comment on that because I don't know. All I can say is from our own point of view, we learned a lot of lessons in this country about the whole process of food production and how meat was produced, how it was cut up, how it was brought to the table. And that opened up the whole of the food industry in quite a major way for scrutiny and for discussion.

And one of the key points throughout it was always that where there was regulation, there had to be control, inspection and audit, because it was no use having laws and rules if nobody enforced them and nobody audited them.

And it became -- it was an expensive lesson. And it was an expensive procedure, but it was the only way in which to gain confidence back into the system.

COLLINS: Of course. Let's talk about that for a minute. How do you feel about the importance of these rules, as far as the disposal of parts and carcasses? I mean, this is what we're really talking about now, right?

JINMAN: Well, we're talking about two ends of it. First of all, we know that from our experiences here, this was a food-based problem. Meat and bone meal seems to have been and has stood the test of time scientifically as being the likely means by which it was spread.

So therefore, it was how are animals fed in the first place? How were the mills and the feed compounders making the manufacturing of food? How well were they clearing out between batches of food? How is the food being transported?

So the first point was to make sure that that was properly inspected, audited and controlled, because without adequate controls there, then you have no means of ensuring that the animals are having a proper feed.

Then you got on to the process of slaughter of the cattle.

And scan. Coming back to your points there, how are they disposed of? How are the bits that you don't want in the system to reduce your chances all the time of infection?

COLLINS: What do your British colleagues do when they learned of this news? Was there kind of a sense all along that it could possibly reach the United States, this disease?

JINMAN: Yes, I think it's always been a slight surprise to us, with the huge population of cattle that you have there, that it was a very likely given the other countries around the world that have reported the odd case. And I put it at that, in the sense that single cases have turned up in one or two other countries, once they put in place surveillance systems, they started to find the disease.

So I think there's always been a feeling there's a huge number of cattle there, that it was very likely that you might find it. But as long as you've got the checks and balances, the inspection and the proper controls, then there was no need to be much of a panic.

COLLINS: All right, quickly Dr. Jinman, before we let you go here, how will the investigation proceed?

JINMAN: Clearly, they've got to trace this animal as much as possible, but you've got to put in place the checks and balances that are necessary. You've also got to put in place an adequate surveillance program. At the moment, you have a very low-grade one. And I'm sure that that would be something that will be stepped up, because it's only by having confidence in the system that you can create confidence in the market afterwards.


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