Globalist Factsheet

Mad Cow — One Moo Too Many?

How has mad cow disease affected the global beef industry?



When cows went crazy in Great Britain back in the 1980s, consumers around the world grew concerned about mad cow disease and its effects on humans. For a long time, the United States believed itself to be impervious. But in December 2003, mad cow surfaced in the United States — apparently via Canada. Our Globalist Factsheet examines the disease and its global consequences.

Do Americans like beef?

In 2003, U.S. beef consumption stood at 26.3 billion pounds — or 94 pounds per capita.
(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

In contrast, how much beef do Europeans consume?

In 2000, EU beef consumption stood at 18.5 kilograms (40.6 pounds) per capita. At 26 kilograms (57.2 pounds) per head, the highest per capita consumption was in Denmark.

How did other countries benefit from the European BSE crisis?

Following fears of mad cow disease, exports of Brazilian beef grew by 30% — to $1 billion in 2001.
(New York Times)

Why can Brazil easily take over new markets?

As of 2003, Brazil produces 13% of the world’s beef. It has the largest commercial cattle herd in the world — and slaughters 33 million head yearly.
(International Herald Tribune)

How many people have died of the human form of mad cow disease?

As of 2004, 154 people have died from eating beef infected with BSE — with most of those deaths occurring in Britain.
(Washington Post)

Why could BSE become a problem in the United States?

As of 2003, only 20,000 — or one for every 1,700 slaughtered — cattle are being tested for mad cow in the United States.
(Wall Street Journal)

What are testing standards in Europe and elsewhere?

As of 2003, throughout the continental EU, countries test all cattle over 30 months that are slaughtered. Germany includes all over 24 months.
(Wall Street Journal)

How strict are the Japanese?

In 2002, Japan tested all of the 1.2 million cattle it slaughtered. This contrasts with the risk assessment used in the United States, under which only 20,000 to 30,000 cows — or 0.03% of the herds — are tested.
(New York Times)

Would extended testing make U.S. beef significantly more expensive?

As of 2003, the grand total to test about 10 million cows in the United States would be $300 to $500 million annually. Considering that U.S. consumers spend more than $50 billion on beef annually, that would add between $0.06 and $0.10 per pound.
(Wall Street Journal)

How did the world react to the first mad cow case in the United States?

After a cow in Washington state was diagnosed with BSE in December 2003, at least 43 countries placed a full or partial ban on U.S. beef imports.
(Wall Street Journal)

What will be the economic consequences?

As of January 2004, it is estimated that U.S. beef exports will decline by 90% this year due to fears of mad cow disease.
(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

How did mad cow disease appear in the first place?

Britain’s BSE epidemic arose when healthy cattle were fed protein supplements that included tissue from infected cows.
(Washington Post)

Where else does mad cow disease exist?

As of 2003, mad cow disease has surfaced in 24 nations worldwide.
(Wall Street Journal)

What are the scientific names of mad cow disease?

Mad cow goes by various names — BSE in cattle, scrapie in sheep, or chronic wasting disease in deer and elk. In humans, it is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).
(Washington Post)

How does the disease develop?

Mad cow disease is transmitted by a prion, which is an abnormally shaped version of a specific protein called PrP. The accumulation of prions destroys the brain.
(Washington Post)

Why is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease so difficult to detect?

The incubation period for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is 15 years on average — before those infected show any signs of illness.
(Washington Post)

How much of the U.S. beef production is exported?

As of 2003, the United States exports about 10% of its beef production.
(Wall Street Journal)

And what is that export business worth?

As of 2003, the United States exports beef worth $3 billion annually.
(Wall Street Journal)

How much does each cow contribute to this amount?

As of 2003, the average cow slaughtered for food in the United States yielded meat with a retail value of $1,636.
(Wall Street Journal)

And finally, why is it also important to put things in perspective?

Between 1986 and 2002, only 5% of the British herd had BSE at any one time — a fact that suggests that the disease is fairly hard to contract.
(Washington Post)

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