03/14/06 — They aren't eating 'more chicken' in Wayne

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They aren't eating 'more chicken' in Wayne

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 14, 2006 1:51 PM

Confirmation of mad cow disease in Alabama didn't stop Wayne County residents from firing up their grills Monday.

Trent Cole said he was checking his e-mail Monday afternoon when he saw a link about an Alabama cow testing positive for mad cow disease.

He was a little worried, but certainly not concerned enough to cancel his grocery shopping trip.

"Well, you had to know this disease was going to make its way into the country," he said. "But there's really nothing you can do about it. It's kind of like terrorism in a way. If you wake up every morning scared that something could kill you, you wouldn't be living life the way you ought to be."

And so, Cole headed to the grocery store after work to pick up some essentials for an early spring cookout -- corn, baked beans and more than six pounds of ground beef.

"You just have to trust your government," he said, stacking meat into his cart. "I mean, what are we going to do, give up meat all together?"

His friend and co-worker Danny Akers agreed.

"We just need to face it," Akers said. "As much as this thing scares people, we can't just stop eating beef. Ribs, brisket and steak are just about all I eat. There's always going to be a reason you should stop doing something or be afraid of something. This is just another one of those warnings people are going to ignore."

Monday's test results mark the third case of mad cow disease, also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), confirmed in the U.S. Federal officials are currently investigating where the cow was born and raised and whether it produced any offspring.

Back in Wayne County, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service livestock agent Eileen Coite said local cattle producers are prepared for the news to affect the beef market.

"They know when they go to the market when something like this happens, there's a good chance that prices are going to drop, not to mention consumer confidence," Mrs. Coite said, adding education and understanding among consumers could help allay fears.

Precautions set by the Food and Drug Administration keep unhealthy animals out of the food supply, she added. Cattle that show symptoms of the disease are screened at packing plants.

But not all cattle infected with BSE show symptoms right away. In fact, it usually takes between two to eight years after infection before signs of the disease surface. Loss of coordination, trouble standing or walking, weight loss and a change in attitude and behavior are warning signs. Eventually, the infected cow will die from the disease.

Still, Mrs. Coite said she is confident that the screening process works.

"Any time they have an animal like that that is even slightly resembling those symptoms, they pull them and they don't go into the food chain anyway," she said.

The Alabama cow, however, was more than 10 years old, and was born prior to the implementation of the FDA's feed ban. Established in 1997, the ban ensures that cows are not fed bone meal or parts of the animal that might have come into contact with the spinal cord, brain, or other parts of the nervous system, Mrs. Coite said.

"There's no way you can ever feed anything that would have had any spinal matter, or anything that would have come in contact with the nervous system, back to cattle," she said. "That's how BSE can be spread, just through either spinal tissue or brain matter. It's spread through contact with the nervous system."

Cooperative Extension Director Howard Scott said the positive Alabama test proves the precautions are working.

"The good thing about identifying the cow with BSE is that our system, which USDA has put in place to prevent any BSE animals from getting into the food system, works," he said. "This should give the consumer confidence that our food source is protected."