Message Number: YG2925 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Jacqueline Snyder
Date: 2001-04-25 03:02:00 UTC
Subject: British/Euro ferret food

I was reading an article on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow
disease) in Scientific American. I want to know more about ferret food and
this disease, but first I'm going to summarize what the disease is.

This disease isn't spread by bacteria or by a virus. It is spread by a
certain type of protein molecule, a prion. These prions are not shaped
properly--they should be helical but they're like sheets instead. When the
'bad' protein molecules come in contact with the 'good' protein molecules
in the brain or nervous system of an animal, the good protein molecules go
bad. They change from their proper helix to a flat sheet. The result is
that the brain of the affected animal almost literally turns to mush. By
the time symptoms appear, the brain is already extensively damaged.

Prions can't be destroyed by cooking. They aren't alive--they are just
molecules. They are spread by physical contact, basically. When an infected
cow is butchered, for example, if its spinal cord or brain are not
carefully handled, those prions can be spread to the rest of the meat, or
work surfaces, and so on. The danger is thought to be mainly with hamburger
and sausage.

Most of the human deaths in England due to mad cow disease (variant
Kreutzfeld-Jakob, to be more specific) have been in young people who, it is
assumed, eat a lot of processed foods, such as burgers and sausages.

Cats in England have developed bovine spongiform encephalopathy. I think
the number was about two dozen, but I don't recall for sure.

The standards for manufacturing animal chow and canned animal food are not
as stringent as the standars on processing meat for human consumption.

To make a long story short, I would really like to know what the higher
quality ferret and cat chow manufacturers are doing to make sure they won't
spread this disease. I would especially like to know how the British and
European pet food companies are handling this situation.

A side note--we do have a type of spongiform encephalopathy in the US. It
affects deer, elk, and squirrels.