Embrapa researchers develop method to identify Mad Cow disease

27/12/2003 - 17h09

Brasília, December 29, 2003 (Agência Brasil - ABr) - Brazil got off to a good start and developed a method to prevent Mad Cow disease, through an analysis of animal feed used to feed herds. According to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (Embrapa), the method can be used by other countries, principally in Europe. "The technique that was developed constitutes an innovation in its speed and precision in the evaluation of the existence of animal proteins in the feed," reveals Embrapa researcher Carlos Bloch.

"Brazil will have the opportunity to license this method to other countries. This is because the technology is an innovation and allows the analysis to be done with great speed and precision," guarantees Embrapa scientists José Cabral. Brazil patented the research in the National Institute of Intellectual Property (INPI) at the beginning of 2002. To develop the method, R$ 600 thousand were invested over six months.

The cost of doing the analysis comes to US$ 80 per sample. Only a small quantity, a microliter, is necessary, and the result is ready in a minute, through a technique known as Mass Spectrometry.

European countries use a method known as Optical Microscopy. According to Bloch, this technique has limitations, because it requires a good evaluation by the analyst to verify whether the material is of animal origin, through the differentiation of granules in the sample. Another method that is used is PCR, which is also used to determine paternity, but it presents limitations in the evaluation of the presence of animal protein. Still another method is the Elisa, which consists in testing a sample through antibodies produced with pig protein. But, according to Bloch, since this method uses only pig protein, not that of other animals, it only detects 10% of the cases.

According to Carlos Bloch, the risk of Brazil's developing Mad Cow disease is small, because most of the Brazilian herd is raised on grazing land and eats grass rather than feed. Moreover, the new method makes it possible to prevent the presence of the animal protein. During the first stage of the research, analyses were performed on 185 samples, 9% of which presented proteins.

Bloch said that the existence of proteins in the feed occurred as a result of lack of sterilization of equipment at the time the food was produced. "The contamination was not criminal, different from what occurred in Europe, but a matter of handling."

The researcher José Cabral calls for the Brazilian government to invest more on controlling the use of animal protein, through inspection and making obligatory the collection of samples of feed for analysis.

The Embrapa scientists' next step is to develop a method to evaluate chicken and eggs. The goal is to detect the presence of an antibiotic, called nitroflurane, which may cause cancer. The method will be developed next year in partnership with the Brazilian Association of Chicken Producers and Exporters (ABEF). "With the fear of Mad Cow disease, there is an expectation that chicken exports will increase, so the method will serve to accredit Brazilian chicken abroad," Block believes.

Since 1999 the Ministry of Agriculture has prohibited the use of animal proteins in the production of cattle feed. The reason is that the uncontrolled use of meat, bones, blood, and entrails in animal feed can cause contamination of the herd. (DAS)