Mad cow disease, medically recognized as Bivine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a fatal disease, which attacks the neurological system of the body. A thousand numbers of cattle were killed as a result of attack by the disease. There was also a link to the human life and the scientists were concerned about the toll on the human life and the catastrophic magnitude of the disease. In the UK, the disease spread quickly and the scientists were incapable to recognize the impact of mad cow disease on the human lives. There are several symptoms of the mad cow disease on the cattle such as nervousness, unsteady lurch, adventitious movement and hyperesthesia. It also impacts on the weight and the milk yield.
The mad cow disease is triggered by an unconventional infectious agent or prion, which is an abnormal protein structure. It induces the normal protein of the body to change into prion conformation. This agent targets the brain and the spinal cord of the animal. This agent is very stable and resists temperature deviations. In the UK, the disease the first case was observed in November 1986. After significant research, in July 1988, the government made the rule that all the cows infected with the disease will be destroyed as a precautionary measure. As a result, about 3.7 million cattle were destroyed as a part of the decision (Li, 2013). In 1989, another rule was passed, which banned the consumption of certain animal organs including brain, spinal cord, spleen and tonsils (Ebringer, 2014). In this regard, the present report highlights the major reasons, issues and the efforts of the public organizations to restore the public trust after the spread of epidemic.
Critical analysis and description of the Scandal
In the 1990s, the mad cow disease created frenzy in the Great Britain, after the people suffered an outbreak of bovine and the human form of disease. In the 1990s, the cattle in the UK suffered symptoms similar to scrapie, which causes progressive neurological problems encompassing the behavioral changes to the loss of coordination. At the end of the decade, over 400 cows were found infected with the disease (Ferreiro, 2009). It has a long maturation period, which can range from 30 months to eight years. The malformed prions or proteins results to a spongy degeneration of brain and the spinal cord (Ferreiro, 2009).
The transmission between the cattle can be a result of the contaminated meat and bone metals. The disease can be transmitted to the humans, if they consume the infected meat. It can also be transmitted through other food or consumer products obtained from the nervous tissues of the infected animals (Cole, 2001). Scientists have conducted different types of research to understand the nature of the disease; however, the characteristics of the disease were not identified and the origin of the infectious agent is not well-understood at that time. It implies that during the outbreak, there was little knowledge of the disease, and the pathology, so all the decisions to control the disease was based on guesswork and assumption that the disease is similar to scrapie (Ebringer, 2014). It was assumed that this disease cannot be transferred to other animals. Further, the lack of proper diagnostic tool made recognition of the infected animals challenging, which have not yet displayed symptoms of the disease (Washer, 2006). It means that it is very challenging to remove the infected cattle from the food chain as there was no mechanism to identify them. It negatively impacted on the human and the animal health. Along with it, it affected the consumer confidence on the meat industry and its trade. The public was also concerned about the regulatory practices of the government, animal food product manufacturing products and the UK government reputation.
Role of Major Actors in the Supply Chain
The food chain crisis occurred over a prolonged period for 1986-96; therefore, a large number of stakeholders were involved in the evaluation and management of the disease control. The epidemic caused risk to both the cattle industry and the human health. Several government departments such as UK Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the UK Department of Health (DH), the Southwood Working Party, Central Veterinary Laboratory, the UK State Veterinary Service have conducted research and development to understand the cause of disease and identify thee solutions to control the disease. The primary responsibility of these government departments is to understand and promote the interest of the agriculture products in the consumer markets (Pennings, Wansink & Meulenberg, 2002). However, the government organizations also have an obligation to safeguard the public from the health risk caused by different agriculture products and the processes. Therefore, in the present sitiation, the government has to take preventive measures to control the sales of infected prodcuts in the market.
However, these conflicting responsibilities made it difficult for the organization to manage the BSE related risk so that the industrial sentiments are not hurt badly. At that time, local authorities and national Meat Hygiene Service had the duty to verify and enforce different regulations by the government. However, their views were biased by the government officials and they took a lax approach to enforce these regulations (Sinaceur, Heath & Cole, 2005). Along with it, other stakeholders involved in the spread of epidemic are the UK government and the public. At that time, the beef industry was worth a significant proportion in the food and agriculture industry, and due to the epidemic, the farmers, the exporters and the meat traders all faced significant issues regarding the closed export markets, low price of beef and issues with relating to adjust to the beef production control measures (Beck, Kewell & Asenova, 2007). The traditional beef production control measure is include purchasing healthy animals, providing transportation to reduce stress, comfortable environmenmt, feeding systemand establishing a surveillance system. With the epidemic, the government has to introduce specific measures related to transportation of infected meat.
These stakeholders tried to minimize the effect of the new regulations by avoiding them or minimizing them (Ebringer, 2014). While talking about the public, the British citizens were concerned about their own health. It can be analyzed that the public received very little information about the government policies and action to combat the issue. As a result, the epidemic infected a large number of people. Moreover, they only received the information, which the government wished to release. Therefore, they received the information that the disease was non-transmissible and the public can eat beef without any danger. However, with the increase in the cases of the disease, the public confidence on the government actions decreased. Later, when the government announced that the disease can spread to the humans, the public did not take the action lightly (Peacock, 2010). It spread the feeling of deception and betrayal to the public. They were disappointed and protested against the government (Knowles, Moody and McEachern, 2007).
The Efforts of the Government and Other Organizations to restore the public trust
The government and the national food agency took several actions to restore the public trust on the food products available in the market. However, there were several risk management deficits in the control of outbreak. These deficits are discussed in the below section. Firstly, when BSE was diagnosed in cattle, the government policy makers were not aware of the disease; the risk involved and did not possess knowledge about pathology or epidemiology of the disease. Several committees were set up advice the government about the different aspects of the disease and give clear directions for the policy making of the organization. The outcomes of BSE crisis gave evidence that the current policies and actions of the government were not effective in handling the epidemic. Another deficit in the government action is that the British government misrepresented the information about the risk (Pennings, Wansink & Meulenberg, 2002). The government took actions to scientifically suppress the information to protect the agricultural and the industrial interest (Peacock, 2010). The British beef industry might have lost billions of pounds, if the government has slaughtered the infected animals or imposed bans on the export of the infected animals.
Further, it was stated that appropriate regulatory measures such as minimal processing standards were already imposed, which will inhibit any contaminated meat entering the food chain. The government took several actions to address the issue and early warning signs of the epidemic. In the UK, the Royal Commission on the Environmental Pollution recommended that minimal processing standards should be imposed on the industry so that the potential impact of disease spread can be controlled. In regard to BSE outbreak, the government wanted to make two major objectives with the application of public policy, which were safeguarding the public interest and protection of the government interest. If the government had imposed bad, it would have lost the support of majority of business community of the UK (Adda, 2007). In 1989, specified bovine offal ban (SBO ban) was implemented so that the spread of infection can be controlled. However, in this policy, the government only selected the tissues, which were of the lowest price. The costly tissues, or tissues are hard to remove were exempted (Coles, Smith and Tombs, 2013). It means that the inclusion criterion for the ban was not the highest risk of infection; however, the commercial value of the tissue. It can be posited that the negative consequences of the disease were traded-off with the commercial risk to the industry.
The Changes in the policy as a result of the outbreak
Since the outbreak of disease in the early 1986, the UK government has introduced several changes in the policy to control the transmission of the disease to the humans. It has taken several actions to prevent the spread of the disease. Firstly, a Feed Ban has been introduced in 1988 as it was presumed that the animal feed, which contained the animal protein, contributes to the transmission of the disease(Coles, Smith and Tombs, 2013). Secondly, a Specific Risk Material Control measure has been implemented, which removes the body parts of the animals so that they are not used for the food consumption. It removes 99% of the risk present in the animal. Another policy measure is to prevent the sale of the cattle, once they are over the age of 30 months. It is due to the reason that BSE does not fully develop in cattle, until they are older than 30 months. It is called Over Thirty Months Rule (Food Standards Agency, 2005).
After the outbreak, two most important regulations were introduced, which were ruminant feed ban and specified bovine offal ban. These bans controlled the inclusion of ruminant protein in the food of animals and the incorporation of cattle offal in the human food. It can be stated that the feed ban is an appropriate method; however, it was not employed quickly or efficiently. The delay in the ban resulted in the infection to thousands of other animals (Bak & Kleinman, 2017). The government granted this delay so that the animal feed industry had a grace period to clear their earlier stocks. As a result, the government contributed to the increase in the infection.
However, the government overtly emphasized the confidentiality of the government records and the data on BSE. It resulted in the misrepresentation of the existing knowledge on the situation as the government has to hide crucial information in order to protect the industrial interest. The BSE infected cattle were detected in the UK in the years of 1985 and 1986 (Gilbert, Stocklmayer and Stocklmayer, 2013). However, no relevant information was transferred to the researchers (Charlebois & Labrecque, 2007). Additionally, the government also passed a circular that the veterinarians cannot circulate any information to other stakeholders.
When the year 1987 was ending, the amount of BSE infected cattle has increased substantially to 37, 280 confirmed cases and a national epidemic was declared (Kaslow, Stanberry and Duc, 2014). The UK press also declared a national epidemic due to the number of infected cows. The government formed the first advisory group in 1988 for identifying the potential risk of the disease to the humans. The cattle were a host for the BSE; however, they are a major concern or risk to the humans. The committee also failed to address the clinical signs, which can be used to identify the cattle entering into the food chain (van Zwanenberg & Millstone, 2001). The government also published a suggestion to exclude the high risk materials from the baby food, which will reduce infection in children.
The report also included several less controversial suggestions, for example the introduction of ban on infected animals and development of an expert body which can direct the research for controlling the epidemic. There was a continued public pressure, which forced the government to introduce a prohibition on selling derived protein extracted from infected animals. In June 1989, in response to the escalating problems, the government introduced a ban to prevent high risk material (bovine offal) to enter into the food chain. The UK Agriculture Supply Trading Association implemented ban on the products in 1989. The government imposed a ban much later in November 1995 on the mechanically recovered meat (Ashlock, Cartmell, Dwayne & Kelemen, 2006).
In 1990, the government also formed a committee so that scientific underpinning can be introduced to address the future government policies. The government accepted different measures to control the BSE risk and protect the human and animal welfare. The report was based on different facts such as the rate of infection was higher than estimated, credible scientific source also stated that there is possibility that BSE can be transferred to other species (Prusiner, 2004).
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) created frenzy in the country, after the people suffered an outbreak of bovine. The cattle in the UK suffered symptoms similar to scrapie, which resulted in neurological problems such as behavioral changes and loss of coordination. The transmission occurs from contaminated meat and bone metals. It was later observed that disease can be transferred to the humans by consumption of infected meat. Similar food productobtained from the nervous tissues of the infected animals can also result in the transmission. Several researches have been directed to comprehend the characteristics of the disease; however, there was little information at that time. In the UK, at the time of the outbreak, there was little knowledge of the disease, so all the decisions to control the disease were based on guesswork.
It can be summarized that the government plays a critical role in the development of the policies to control BSE disease. It can be critiqued that the government involved the expert committees only when they perceived that they are no longer ready to handle the crisis. The BSE report stated that the epidemic has generated from the use of contaminated meat in the cattle field. It is important to formulate the feed ban policies and other regulatory response to curb the epidemic, before its outbreak. Moreover, it can be learnt from the policy response of the organization that it is important to maintain the credibility, especially, when the underlying science is uncertain. The government should convey the information about the risk and in a transparent manner. If the causes or the underlying reasons of an epidemic are not well-known, the government should promote the research in that area.
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