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Scientist says anti-mad cow measure ignored
( 2003-12-31 09:46) (Agencies)

A U.S. scientist said on Tuesday a simple treatment combining high pressure with heat could neutralize the proteins that cause mad cow disease, but federal officials had shown little interest in it.

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Dr. Paul Brown of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said his process, developed with European researchers, would inactivate the prion proteins that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy without damaging the meat. Normal cooking does not affect prions.

"For the past two years I have been looking at a method of inactivating prions in meat," Brown, a top expert on BSE and related diseases, said in a telephone interview.

"It uses high pressure and it works, but to this date no one seems interested in using it."

Brown and colleagues at Washington Farms in Tacoma, Washington and the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome published a report in May showing that short, high-temperature pressure bursts could greatly reduce the numbers of prions active in meat.

"The application of commercially practical conditions of temperature and pressure could ensure the safety of processed meats from BSE contamination," they wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Brown and colleagues tested hot dogs, contaminating them with brain tissues from hamsters that had scrapie, a relative of BSE.

They sealed the samples, put them in polyethylene bottles filled with hot castor oil then subjected them to bursts of physical pressure in a pressure chamber.

The pressure bursts, ranging from 100,000 pounds per square inch to 174,000 PSI (690 MPa to 1,200 MPa), inactivated many of the prions, Brown's team said. They said the process would also destroy a range of bacteria, fungi and viruses.

U.S. officials have taken a series of measures to protect the meat supply from mad cow disease after the discovery of a single U.S. cow with BSE.

The measures imposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (news - web sites) include a ban on using meat from downer cattle -- animals unable to walk on their own at the slaughter plant.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said there is no risk to consumers from the recall of 10,000 pounds of beef linked to the infected cow and 19 others slaughtered on Dec. 9.

Brown and other experts note that the process of slaughtering can spatter and spread infected material on to meat, despite the most careful measures. Processed meat products are considered the riskiest as they mix tissue from various parts of the animal.

BSE destroys the brains of infected cattle. There is no cure and it is always fatal.

People get a form of the disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease by eating infected beef products. At least 137 people have died from vCJD after mad cow struck herds in Britain and Europe a decade ago.

A commentary on Brown's findings in the New England Journal of Medicine's Infectious Diseases publication in July said they had commercial potential.

"(But) extensive studies using other foods and other temperature and pressure combinations are needed before it can be considered for use," Dr. Richard Ellison wrote in the commentary.

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