Department of Health officials and academics were divided 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 US this week.
Citing a report by the WHO that concludes prions, infectious proteins carried by BSE-infected animals, are not carried in milk, Department of Health Deputy Minister Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲) said that milk from BSE-infected animals was safe for human consumption.
Since 1997, the US 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 said. As a result, the number of confirmed cases of BSE in cows in the US has been reduced significantly, she added.
Hsiao said the Taiwanese government would step up inspections on beef producers in the US following the new case of mad cow disease discovered in a dairy cow in California. Taiwan has the authority to inspect beef producers in the US as part of an agreement that allowed the lifting of a ban on imports of US bone-in beef in 2006.
Mad cow disease is fatal to cows and can cause a fatal brain disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) — in people who eat tainted beef.
Despite officials’ reassurance about 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 WHO report.
Chen Sheng-shun (陳勝順), honorary vice president of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital’s Kaohsiung branch, said a Swiss scientist developed a more accurate test for mad cow disease in 2007 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 dairy products, he added.
Chiang Shou-shan (江守山), 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 had risen considerably since the government lifted the ban on US in-bone beef imports.
Since classic CJD — which is unrelated 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, urging the authorities to probe more deeply into the matter.