Mad cow disease has the power to terrify, but at this point, U.S. consumers have far more to fear from other sources of food poisoning. There have been no human deaths from eating mad-cow-tainted beef in this country. Meanwhile, other food-borne illnesses kill 3,000 Americans a year; close to 400 die from salmonella alone, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
That said, there's still reason for concern about this country's efforts to prevent mad cow — formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy — despite federal officials' rosy statements after a California dairy cow was discovered to have the disease. The cow was among the 40,000 cattle randomly tested each year in this country for mad cow, and is only the fourth case to be detected. As spokesmen for theU.S. Department of Agricultureput it, the diseased cow had never entered the human food supply; it was found at a rendering plant, which processes animal remains for use in animal feed and some household products. And it had an atypical form of the illness, one that is more likely to have developed spontaneously rather than having been ingested through its feed, though the USDA is investigating the food records of the dairy involved.