Prion Deletion and Insertion Mutants

US News & World Report: The next bad beef scandal?
Prions: smaller and meaner than a virus
Food-borne illness sickens up to 80 million Americans each year
Burger King to launch Big Mac rival
Anthrax said to be in decline
Does USDA need power to protect meat safety?
EU Directive On BSE Will Not Affect Drugs

The next bad beef scandal?

US NEWS& WRep">U.S. News & World Report Sept 1, 1997
By Michael Satchell And Stephen J. Hedges with Linda Kulman

Smaller And Meaner Than A Virus

The political maelstrom over mad-cow disease has waned since the British sentenced to death more than 100,000 cattle suspected of carrying the infection. Yet controversy over the disease (also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE) remains intense within scientific circles. Although BSE was recognized in 1986, researchers have been stymied in pinpointing its cause. In the absence of a fall guy, BSE has been blamed by some researchers on mysterious, rogue bits of misshapen protein called prions, which show up in animals with BSE and a number of related diseases. According to their theory, a prion (rhymes with "neon") persuades normal proteins to "flip" themselves into new prions, setting off the chain reaction within cells.

But nobody has ever proved that prions can cause infection. Indeed, the very idea that a bit of protein can pull off such a deed on its own flies in the face of biological theory--seizing control of a cell's machinery normally takes DNA or other genetic material. But in the current Science, researchers at the University of Chicago report finding a yeast protein that is able to replicate its shape by flipping normal proteins, just as prions are supposed to. (Not to fear: These yeast prions are harmless.) Still, some critics label the prion theory as demagogy and suggest that BSE is just the work of a very crafty virus that has so far eluded detection. In either case, until a culprit is found, the only cure remains prevention.

Not Just Cows

Prions are also suspected in a number of other mysterious disorders that leave the victim's brain riddled with holes, causing loss of coordination and dementia:
                Scrapie (sheep)
                Chronic wasting disease (deer and elk)
                Feline spongiform encephalopathy (cats)
                Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (humans)
                Fatal familial insomnia (humans)
                Kuru or "laughing death," transmitted by ritual cannibalism (humans)

Other Concerns about beef

  1. E. coli. Flourishes in cattle intestines. Meat (usually ground beef) can be contaminated by fecal contact during slaughter. In humans, can cause cramping and diarrhea, progressing to kidney failure in severe cases. Prevention: Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, other beef to 145-170 degrees.
  2. Salmonella. Can be present in raw meat. Symptoms of illness include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and fever. Prevention: Wash cutting surfaces and hands and cook meat thoroughly as above.
  3. Campylobacter. Found mainly in raw chicken, the bacteria can pass to cattle that feed on chicken manure, and then to humans if slaughter involved fecal contact. Prevention: Cook chicken to 180 degrees Fahrenheit; for beef, see above.
  4. Toxic heavy metals. Arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury can collect in cattle organs and tissues. Effects on humans who eat tainted beef are uncertain. Prevention: Unclear. Some experts call for removal of more heavy metals from waste before it is used as feed or fertilizer.

Cattle feed now contains things like manure and dead cats

It was about as exciting as things get in quiet Columbus, Neb. Last week, just a few days after their arrival, a SWAT team of agricultural inspectors forced the closing of the town's Hudson Foods Co. plant, declaring that a jumbled record system and questionable procedures made it difficult, if not impossible, to determine how E. coli bacteria had tainted the hamburger patties fashioned there.

The bad meat, the inspectors found, came from one of seven slaughterhouses that supplied Hudson on June 5. Just which one wasn't immediately clear. Hudson recalled 25 million pounds of its meat, and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman offered assurances that the plant would not open until "far more stringent safety standards" had been adopted. "All evidence at this point," he added, "indicates that we have contained the outbreak."

Glickman's declaration may have been a tad premature. The true extent of the Hudson hamburger contamination will remain a mystery until inspectors know exactly which plants supplied the beef. From there, they will have to investigate further to determine if Hudson's suppliers also sent bad meat to other food companies. What is indisputable, however, is that the problems at Hudson represent only one of many threats to the nation's meat supply.

Bargain breakfast.

Agriculture experts say a slew of new and questionable methods of fattening cattle are being employed by farmers. To trim costs, many farmers add a variety of waste substances to their livestock and poultry feed--and no one is making sure they are doing so safely. Chicken manure in particular, which costs from $15 to $45 a ton in comparison with up to $125 a ton for alfalfa, is increasingly used as feed by cattle farmers despite possible health risks to consumers. In regions with large poultry operations, such as California, the South, and the mid-Atlantic, more and more farmers are turning to chicken manure as a cheaper alternative to grains and hay.

Lamar Carter is one such cattle farmer. Carter recently purchased 745 tons of litter scooped from the floors of local chicken houses, stacking it 12 feet high on his farm near Dardanelle, Ark. After allowing the protein-rich excrement to heat up for seven to 10 days, Carter mixes it with smaller amounts of soybean bran, and feeds this fecal slumgullion to his 800 head of cattle. "My cows are fat as butterballs," Carter says. "If I didn't have chicken litter, I'd have to sell half my herd. Other feed's too expensive."

Health officials are not as enthusiastic. Chicken manure often contains campylobacter and salmonella bacteria, which can cause disease in humans, as well as intestinal parasites, veterinary drug residues, and toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. These bacteria and toxins are passed on to the cattle and can be cycled to humans who eat beef contaminated by feces during slaughter. A scientific paper scheduled for publication this fall in the journal Preventive Medicine points to the potential dangers of recycling chicken waste to cattle.

"Feeding manure that has not been properly processed is supercharging the cattle feces with pathogens likely to cause disease in consumers," says Dr. Neal Barnard, head of the Washington, D.C.--based health lobby Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an author of the article.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates there may be as many as 80 million incidences of food-borne illness each year in the United States, and about 9,000 deaths. Salmonella accounts for 4 million cases, of which 500 to 1,000 are fatal. Campylobacter, which causes acute gastroenteritis, afflicts between 4 million and 6 million people annually, killing about 100. E. coli, the bacteria that was found in the tainted Hudson Foods beef, causes up to 250 fatalities and triggers serious illness in up to 20,000 people annually. At least 17 people have fallen ill from eating contaminated Hudson beef.

Agricultural refuse such as corncobs, rice hulls, fruit and vegetable peelings, along with grain byproducts from retail production of baked goods, cereals, and beer, have long been used to fatten cattle. In addition, some 40 billion pounds a year of slaughterhouse wastes like blood, bone, and viscera, as well as the remains of millions of euthanized cats and dogs passed along by veterinarians and animal shelters, are rendered annually into livestock feed--in the process turning cattle and hogs, which are natural herbivores, into unwitting carnivores.

The kitchen sink.

Animal-feed manufacturers and farmers also have begun using or trying out dehydrated food garbage, fats emptied from restaurant fryers and grease traps, cement-kiln dust, even newsprint and cardboard that are derived from plant cellulose. Researchers in addition have experimented with cattle and hog manure, and human sewage sludge. New feed additives are being introduced so fast, says Daniel McChesney, head of animal-feed safety for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that the government cannot keep pace with new regulations to cover them.

No accurate statistics exist on how many farmers feed poultry waste to their cattle. Roger Hoestenbach, former president of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which sets standards for the animal-feed industry, estimates it occurs to some degree in half to three quarters of the states. Regulating the safety of the nation's animal feed is the FDA's responsibility, but the agency only monitors interstate commerce. Waste products are rarely shipped over long distances, because transportation costs wipe out the savings from using cheaper materials. Manure is not used by the large, commercial livestock-feed manufacturers because they would be required to perform expensive tests to detect pathogens and toxins. But farmers don't have to use commercial feed; they are free to feed their animals anything they choose, and many use poultry litter.

Distasteful as it may seem, chicken and turkey droppings can be fed safely if handled properly. This involves correctly stacking the manure for four to eight weeks while the naturally generated heat raises temperatures to 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, high enough to destroy bacteria and toxins. However, farmers rarely--if ever--check the temperatures of manure piles or test to make sure the waste is pathogen free, according to interviews with university extension experts, state and federal agriculture officials, livestock feed-industry regulators, and beef growers in large poultry producing states. Some farmers say they feed chicken manure raw to cattle straight from the broiler house, which virtually ensures problems. Others "go by the smell" to judge when it is ready.

Studies of manure-feed safety, argue the authors of the Preventive Medicine report, have been conducted largely in controlled environments, not in the casual, unregulated conditions on most farms. Few studies address public health aspects, and there is an overall dearth of published information. "Feeding manure may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it is safe if you process it properly," says the FDA's McChesney. "If you don't, it's like playing with matches around gasoline." Rodney Noel, secretary of the AAFCO feed-standards group, agrees there is a serious regulatory gap. "There should be some decent production oversight of these types of byproducts," he says, "particularly when there is a possibility of contamination."

Mad cows.

The contents of animal feed are attracting more attention as a result of the outbreak of so-called mad cow disease in Great Britain and concern that similar problems could occur here. More than a dozen Britons died after eating beef from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The cattle are thought to have contracted the disease by eating rendered brains and spinal cords of sheep infected with a condition called scrapie. While scrapie is far less common in the United States, on August 4 the FDA ordered a halt to feeding all slaughterhouse wastes to U.S. cattle and sheep as a BSE safety precaution. Seventy-five percent of the nation's 90 million cattle had been eating feed containing slaughterhouse byproducts, so the ban raises the possibility that more farmers and feed manufacturers will turn to cheap additives like manure and other questionable waste products.

The Department of Agriculture recently instituted a high-tech regime of meat inspections to catch bacteria like E. coli, but those procedures are still being introduced into packing plants. In addition, the department is hobbled by old laws, as it was in the Hudson Foods case: It couldn't legally close the company's Columbus plant once problems were discovered but could only recommend the company suspend operations. Hudson complied, but the department's inability to act unilaterally, Glickman said, was a frustration.

"One of the biggest loopholes out there is the fact that I do not have authority to order a recall of bad product or bad meat," he said.
That may change if the administration succeeds in pushing through a legislative fix this fall. Consumers, meanwhile, who generally know little or nothing about what happens to meat on its way to their table, also have no way to learn if their beef has been fattened on chicken droppings. And maybe they don't want to know.

Agricultural inspectors shut the Hudson Foods Co. plant down last week, declaring that a jumbled record system and questionable procedures made it difficult, if not impossible, to determine how E. coli bacteria had tainted the hamburger patties fashioned there.

Proposal would expand USDA power to protect meat safety

Reuter Information Service August 29, 1997
WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration unveiled a proposal Friday that would give the U.S. Agriculture Department authority to order a recall of tainted meat and to impose civil fines against companies that break the law. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman also said the proposed legislation would seek to expand the agency's existing authority to withdraw USDA meat inspectors and shut down plants in cases of willful violations.
"These enforcement tools are critical," Glickman said at a news conference.
The legislation will be given to Congress when it returns next week from summer recess, and Glickman had indicated he would support it, said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat. The bill would give the USDA the ability to fine a company up to $100,000 a day for safety violations. Currently, the USDA cannot order a recall of bad meat, but can only threaten to remove federal meat inspectors from plants that refuse to agree to order a recall.

The Clinton Administration move came after the USDA forced Hudson Foods Inc. to order a record recall of 25 million pounds of hamburger suspected of being contaminated with the deadly E. coli bacteria. Colorado health officials have blamed 17 illnesses on frozen hamburger patties produced at Hudson's Columbus, Neb., plant. Thomas Billy, head of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said investigators were still trying to pinpoint the source of the bad Hudson meat from among seven suppliers.

"Through our continuing investigation it's now possible that there was earlier contaminated product and we need to focus on who those suppliers were," Billy said.

Thursday August 28

Burger King to launch Big Mac rival

 Aug 28 (Reuter) - NYT
NEW YORK, - Burger King on Thursday will launch its own rival to McDonald's (MCD) flagship Big Mac, called the Big King, the New York Times reported. The new offering will be available at all 7,277 Burger Kings in the U.S., the paper said. McDonald's, however, is planning to strike back at Burger King with its onw version of Burger King's flagship Whopper. McDonald's so-called Big and Tasty is still in the works, the paper said. Burger King is a unit of Grand Metropolitan.

Anthrax declines along with MBM and knackers

Martin Hugh-Jones  ProMED 26 Aug 1997
Ahead about a recent case of anthrax in cattle discovered in Scotland: this was the first anthrax case in the UK this year ... a significant improvement from 25+ years ago when the average incidence was 300-500 cases per year. This has resulted from a number of actions but primarily from cleaner shipping and a progressive reduction in bone meal imports. The present proscription of MBM will also result in unrealised cases no longer being recycled through knackers.

Eu Directive On BSE Will Not Affect Drugs

August 30, 1997
British Medical Journal
Vol 315 No 7107
David R B Bowser

In his letter Alan Earl-Slater states that if certain European proposals go ahead then, with effect from 31 December 1997, certain categories of drugs will not be allowed on the market in the European Union.(1) He goes on to name two of my company's products, Hyalase and Hypurin (insulin).

This is not the case. Both products will continue to be available in Britain and in the rest of the union.
The commission's proposal to amend directive 75/318/EEC (not 75/18/EEC, as stated in the letter) has been suspended. This directive is specific to pharmaceuticals. A broader commission decision on the use of materials in the food chain presenting risks in relation to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies was adopted on 29 July 1997. This decision referred to the banning of the use of specified risk materials, defined as the skull, including the brains and eyes; tonsils; and spinal cord of cattle, sheep, and goats over 1 year of age, and the spleens of sheep and goats over 6 months of age. Additionally, the use of the vertebral column of cattle, sheep, and goats for the production of mechanically recovered meat is banned from 1 January 1998.

Hypurin (beef and pork insulins) and Hyalase (hyaluronidase) are derived from beef or pork pancreases (Hypurin) and sheep testes (Hyalase). None of these organs are included in the commission's recent definition of specified risk materials. Furthermore, it is unlikely that any future amendment to directive 75/318/EEC, if indeed there is one, will encompass these organs. Incidentally, Earl-Slater's conclusions on the impact of the proposed legislation on gelatin will also not apply: gelatin will continue to be available for pharmaceutical use. Only the use of specified risk materials in the manufacture of the gelatin will be limited.

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