Did human remains cause mad cow disease?

Friday, September 2, 2005

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as BSE or "mad cow" disease, may have been caused by human remains ingested by British cattle, two scientists said today.

Alan Colchester and his daughter Nancy Colchester, from the University of Kent and University of Edinburgh, respectively, suggested that the remains of humans cast into the Ganges in an Indian funeral rite contaminated Indian animal feed that was imported to the U.K. If some of the humans died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, bone meal infected with CJD would have entered the British food chain, causing the similar BSE in cattle.

Admitting the evidence was not solid, the two scientists still argued that this new theory merited further review. The current theory of the origin of BSE involves the transmission of scrapie, a similar disease that affects sheep, to cattle. Prions, infectious proteins that would be the only disease-causing agents without nucleic acid, are thought to be the cause of all of these diseases.