The cause of mad cow disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy [BSE],
which has infected more than 2 million cattle causing an epidemic in United Kingdom has caused a controversy due to Researchers in United Kingdom blaming imported animal feed containing infected animal or human carcasses as the cause of mad cow disease outbreak. A recent report published in Lancet reports that mad cow disease would have spread from India. UK Scientists believe that animal feed which is exported to United Kingdom, may be contaminated by dead bodies which would have washed ashore in India. Due, to Indian funeral ceremonies there are large number of human remains would have floated downriver and contaminated feed or due to use of contaminated bones for preparation of animal feed. The reasons for the spread of Mad cow disease as mentioned by Professor Alan Colchester of University of Kent may be due to result of cattle being fed by feed which may be contaminated by remains of sheep which would have died due to scrapie disease or would have contained remains of humans infected with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [CJD], as tones of animal feed is imported from India each year. "In 10 years, more than a third of a million tones of material from these areas were imported into the UK."
Views of Professor Colchester, UK:
Professor Colchester and his daughter Nancy, of the University of Edinburgh, reports that
more evidence for this is circumstantial and more work is needed. They feel as many human and animal corpses probably contaminated by CJD may have been disposed in Indian rivers as part of their cultural custom and these corpses would have washed ashore where bone collectors would have collected their bones for preparing animal feed. These locally prepared animal feed would have been exported to UK. Many countries are importing locally prepared animal feed which may be a potential infecting agent containing brain proteins infected with Scrapie, BSE and CJD and they can transform themselves into infectious agents.
"Existing theories of the original causes of BSE, the bovine disease, we don't find convincing," Professor Colchester said. "We have identified the fact that a large amount of imported animal feeding material was brought into Britain during the period when BSE must first have occurred and the largest source coming to the UK was from the Indian subcontinent."
More than 150 people died during 1990's due to infection of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and it is believed that the infection spread to these people after eating meat from infected cattle.
Importing animal feed containing contaminated animal and human bones have significant role in causing Mad cow disease outbreaks in cattle. The researchers say they doubt BSE resulted from scrapie because material infected with the disease has been fed to cattle for many decades without any sign of BSE arising.
Views of Professor Susaira Shankar, India:
Professor Susaria Shankar of National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience [NIMHANS], Bangalore, in his commentary notes in a Journal has said though one case of Scrapie, occurred due to import of feed has been reported from the Himalayan Foothills. But still, "Scientists must proceed cautiously when hypothesising about a disease that has such wide geographic, cultural and religious implications," Professor Shankar says. "We agree that the idea proposed by the Colchesters needs to be probed further. Facts to support or refute their hypothesis now need to be gathered with urgency and great care."
World Health Organization Investigation:
Both the Indian and Britain scientists view should be investigated by WHO, before confirmation is reached regarding the cause of mad cow disease outbreak.
Colchester said that the World Health Organization would be the best international body to coordinate further investigations.
Professor Shankar says there are many unanswered questions, regarding the outbreak of mad cow disease linking to India. For instance, no one has shown that human brain and spinal cord tissue from the river Ganges contains CJD. He says that if the outbreak occurred due to dead body contamination in the river banks, then there would have been a major epidemic in north India.