Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mad Fish Disease?

Photo courtesy of Vegetarian Organic Blog.

Robert P. Friedland, neurologist from the University of Louisville, has released a scientific paper warning that farmed fish could be at risk of contracting Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) – commonly known as mad cow disease.

In yet another boundary-blurring move, farmed fish are fed cow byproducts – a food source they never have access to in their natural environment.

Friedland and his co-authors raise the issue/ethics of feeding cow bone or meat to farmed fish in an article for the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. They call on food regulatory agencies to ban feeding of any cow byproducts to farmed fish until it is determined whether this practice is safe.

“We have not proven that it’s possible for fish to transmit the disease to humans. Still, we believe that out of reasonable caution for public health, the practice of feeding rendered cows to fish should be prohibited,” Friedland said. “Fish do very well in the seas without eating cows.”

Mad cow disease is a fatal disease that can be contracted by eating parts of a cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). After an outbreak in Britain due to infected beef, 163 people died. says this about Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease:
Since Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease affects the brain, the symptoms it produces are neurological. It may start out subtly with insomnia, depression, confusion, personality and behavioral changes, and problems with memory, coordination, and sight. As it progresses, the person rapidly develops dementia and involuntary, irregular jerking movements called myoclonus.

In the final stage of the disease, the patient loses all mental and physical functions, lapses into a coma, and eventually dies. The course of the disease usually takes one year. The disease generally affects people between the ages of 50 to 75 years. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is called "variant" because it has affected people at a younger age, even teenagers (the ages have ranged from 18 to 53 years old).

“The fact that no cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have been linked to eating farmed fish does not assure that feeding rendered cow parts to fish is safe,” warns Friedland. “The incubation period of these diseases may last for decades, which makes the association between feeding practices and infection difficult. Enhanced safeguards need to be put in place to protect the public.”

If the threat of getting mad cow disease from your seafood isn’t enough to put you off farmed fish, think about this. Farmed fish are also fed significant, regular amounts of antibiotics to keep them disease- and parasite free and have a tendency to be contaminated with mercury.

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