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There has been renewed publicity lately
about Mad Cow Disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE).
Suggestions have been made that there may be a link between the use of
bone meal that came from BSE infected cattle and the contraction
of specific cases of BSE in England. Specifically, a Dr. Gadjusek felt
that there was a possibility of contracting BSE through inhaling bone meal
dust during garden applications. This has made some gardeners in the United
States nervous about continuing to use bone meal in their gardening. Let me
give a brief summary of the facts as presented by Janet Wintermute, an editor
for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the USDA
site devoted to this issue.
1. The USDA has not allowed British beef or
cattle-generated products to be imported since 1989.
2. Since 1989,
USDA veterinarians have done necropsies on the brains of nearly 12,000 U.S.
cattle that showed BSE-like symptoms. None of these cattle had BSE.
Preliminary results of a USDA-funded study at Harvard University show the
risk of BSE occurring in the U.S. is almost non-existent due to the
prevention steps taken. The comprehensive final report is expected during
the spring of 2001.
4. During the late 1970s, England started using a
heat-only method of treating animal carcasses that were to be used
for protein-based meal and bone meal. Prior to that time, they used
a combination of heat and solvent extraction. We now know that heat plus
solvent extraction kills the BSE causal organism but heat without solvent
extraction does not. Fortunately, the U.S. has never abandoned the heat
plus solvent extraction method.
To summarize, it seems very unlikely that
we need to be concerned about using bone meal in our gardens because:
The U.S. has never had a confirmed case of BSE even though the USDA has been
actively looking for cases since 1989. Our method of preparing bone meal
kills the BSE organism. If you want more information on this topic:
point your Web-browser to:
Ward Upham, Extension Associate; Matt Fagerness,
Turfgrass; Ned Tisserat, Plant Pathology
K-State Research and Extension
3601 Throckmorton Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
532-6173 FAX: (785) 532-5780
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