Study: Gelatin Process Cuts Mad Cow Infectiousness

Study: Gelatin Process Cuts Mad Cow Infectiousness

June 29, 2001 Reuters by Lisa Richwine
BETHESDA, Md. (Reuters) - The typical process for making cattle-derived gelatin significantly reduces the infectivity of agents that cause mad cow and similar diseases, early findings from a U.S. study released on Friday show.

Adding other steps could further minimize any chances that gelatin, if made from infected animals, might transmit the deadly illness, said Robert Rohwer, director of molecular neurovirology at a Veterans' Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore.

Rohwer presented his preliminary results to a panel that advises the U.S. government on how to keep mad cow and its human variation out of the country.

Now, regulators permit bovine gelatin in some food and pharmaceuticals as long as producers avoid using cattle from risky areas and take other safeguards. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) officials said they would consider whether to update the policy after Rohwer completes his studies later this year or next year.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has been found in many European countries but not in the United States. About 100 people have died from a human form that experts believe came from eating infected European meat.

Most gelatin that enters the United States from Europe is used to make capsules for pharmaceuticals, according to the Gelatin Manufacturers of Europe, which represents 11 companies. The group said all bovine gelatin from its firms made for the United States comes from cattle outside of Europe and is safe.

Gelatin can be made from cow bones or hides. Rohwer said early tests in animals showed the multi-step process used by most European makers ``inactivated a significant amount of infectivity'' in gelatin made from infected material.

Adding other steps, such as treating the bones with sodium hydroxide, reduced infections even further, he said.

Dr. Michael Schoentjes, vice president for the Gelatin Makers of Europe, said companies would consider incorporating that step into their manufacturing processes.

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