NMA Issue Advisory

March 1997

Re: Deadly Feast by Richard Rhodes. A Simon and Schuster Publication

The release of Deadly Feasts by Richard Rhodes may increase discussion of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or "Mad Cow" Disease with the media, with consumer groups, and with your friends and colleagues.

Richard Rhodes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Making of the Atomic Bomb, begins Deadly Feasts by following the path of Dr. Carlton Gujdusek (pronounced GUY-dew-sheck) though the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea. There Gujdusek finds a strange disease Kuru that afflicts the native inhabitants called the Fore. Rhodes describes in frightening detail the gruesome symptoms suffered by those infected with the disease. The book unfolds like a mystery novel, revealing the chronological events that lead Gujdusek to discover that Kuru was not a hereditary disease but a disease caused by the Fore's cannibalistic practice of eating the flesh of the deceased.

Rhodes then weaves the reader though a variety of carefully chosen scientific discoveries that seem to irrefutably link Kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD), transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME), scrapie, BSE and variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (vCJD) to a common, unstoppable infectious agent called a prion. He completes the picture by presenting carefully chosen experiments that seemingly demonstrate that BSE prion can cross the species barrier and cause vCJD. However, Rhodes does not cite scientific resources. Rather he relies on journal entries and interviews, which are mainly speculative and have no scientific evidence to support them.

About two thirds of the way through the book, Rhodes begins an insidious attack on meat. Page 121 states, "Muscle from infected animals did, however, produce disease in other animals, an ominous discovery that everyone promptly forgot. Muscle, properly sliced and packaged, is what we call meat."

Rhodes story leads to the conclusion that a spontaneously occurring, native strain BSE prion is present in American dairy and beef cattle. He then goes on to say that it is only a matter of time (if it has not already occurred) before this American BSE crosses the species barrier and infects Americans with vCJD the same way that the British BSE infected people in Britain. Fortunately, this segment is more statistical and scientific in style making it less captivating and more difficult to read. Also, Rhodes failure to include any information from government scientists who are on the forefront of protecting the U.S. from BSE shows a bias slant designed to sell books instead of truthfully reporting all sides of this complex issue.

The book concludes with the notion that everything from infected blood to the bone meal used by rose gardeners will infect humans with BSE.

Contact NMA for a NMA resource that accurately refutes many of the points made by Rhodes. It will aid you in answering any questions the media or your friends and colleagues might have on BSE. Also available upon request is a paper prepared by Dr. H. Russell Cross, Director of the Institute of Food Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University, on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. Dr. Cross is recognized nationwide as one of the leading experts on BSE.

Prepared by Teresa Frey, Regulatory Aide.

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