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Mad Cow Disease and Cosmetics

As I discuss in my video Which Intestines for Food and Cosmetics?, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reopened comments about its policy of allowing some intestines, but not others, into the U.S. food supply. When the first few cases of mad cow disease started popping up, the FDA’s gut reaction was to ban all guts from food and personal care products. Then, in 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA amended their draft rule to “permit the use of the entire small intestine for human food” if the last 80 uncoiled inches going to the colon is removed. Since then, however, studies have shown that infectious mad cow prions can be found throughout all parts of the intestine, from the stomach down to the cow’s colon, raising the question of whether all entrails should be removed once again from the food supply.

The North American Meat Association said no, wanting to keep cattle insides inside the food supply. Similarly, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA, now the Personal Care Products Council) protested the concern, arguing that banning downer and dead cattle, as well as their brains, skulls, eyes, spinal cords, intestines, and tonsils, could put our nation’s supply of cosmetics in jeopardy. There could be a tallow shortage for soap, for example. The FDA may not realize that cosmetics and personal care products are a quarter trillion-dollar industry worldwide.

In the end, the FDA “tentatively” concluded that intestines should continue to be allowed in the food and cosmetic supply because “[o]nly trace amounts of infectivity have been found” throughout the bowels of cattle. The agency had to come to that conclusion because, otherwise, the meat would have to be banned as well. Indeed, new research shows there’s mad cow infectivity in the animals’ muscles, too, and not just in the atypical cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), like the last mad cow found in California. We now know it’s in typical BSE as well: Low levels of infectious prions have also been found in the ribs, shoulders, tenderloins, sirloin tips, and round cuts of meat.

The latest estimates from Britain suggest 15,000 people are currently incubating the human form of mad cow disease, contracted through the consumption of infected meat. Fewer than 200 Brits have died so far of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but the incubation period for this invariably fatal neurodegenerative disease—that is, the time between eating the meat and one’s brain filling up with holes—can be decades. The fact that so many people are carrying it has important implications for the safety of blood transfusions, which is why many Americans who’ve lived in England are barred by the Red Cross from donating blood. Also at risk is the safety of handling surgical instruments that may have cut into someone who’s a carrier, as it is so difficult to sterilize anything once it’s been contaminated.

Given these factors, it may be prudent to err on the side of caution when regulating which intestines are allowed on and in our mouths, but it’s a balance. As one meat company pointed out, guts are not just used for lipstick—intestines are human food, “providing us with a precious source of protein which is essential for our human population.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the FDA has caved to industry pressures. See, for example:

As scary as rare infections like mad cow disease are, we are much more likely to be disabled or killed by more conventional foodborne pathogens such as bacteria. Check out:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

45 responses to “Mad Cow Disease and Cosmetics

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  1. Females may never wear lipstick again. The cosmetics industry is probably losing big bucks. If wearing a mask in public becomes the New Norm, some won’t even be concerned about stinky breath or even brushing or putting in their teeth.

    People will feel naked without them. And when people are allowed to get “social” again, they won’t want to. “Beat it! Don’t you get closer to me!”

    1. It been my understanding that there is no way to sterilize surgical instruments after being infected with prion disease. That high heat doesn’t destroy or anything else.

    1. Yes there are and their website should tell you if they are cruelty free and vegan. Look for the symbols on the package.

    2. YES there are ….read the ingredients. Those companies that are VEGAN usually display the leaping bunny.
      Also PETA has a list of the companies that do & don’t!

  2. Yet another reason for me to not wear make-up. In addition to being lazy, having no desire, and saving money. Oh, and wanting to scratch my face if it itches. I never understood the allure of it all. And I would never have worn it, if not for social pressure. Even then, I used it as little as possible. And I stopped altogether years ago. Freedom!!

    1. Dr J.,

      Yes. I think the only time I actually wanted to use make-up was “dress up” as a child. Maybe a few times as a teenager.

      I was always too self-conscious to wear lipstick. It seemed too fake.

      The males around me hated lipstick on women on top of that.

      But I hated it myself.

      The concept that there would be anything to do with any animal involved makes me want assurance about the chapped lip products.

      1. I had to get a renewed picture ID. The woman making it commented that I had a nice shade of lipstick. Told her I don’t wear it, it’s the result of eating lots of vegetables. I could tell she thought I was joking. Nope. Eating a lot of veggies, especially raw, changes your skin tones.

  3. I lived in England during the time period the Red Cross has banned people from donating blood. I am not allowed to donate blood, which is a shame as I didn’t eat any meat when I lived there!

    1. I guess the concept that it can take decades for the holes to appear in the brain was a good reason because they couldn’t know for sure what you ate.

      It would be hard to trust people with those stakes.

      Scary stuff.

    2. I am in the exact same boat….lived there 6 months as a vegetarian in early 90s. Never ate meat, but did consume some dairy products. Mostly just milk in my tea. It seems overly cautious IMO.

  4. Thank you for the link, Barb! I was surprised and happy to learn there are affordable vegan make-up items on the market.

  5. Vegan doesn’t always mean free from harmful chemicals unfortunately. There are many ‘natural’ brands that aren’t. I’ve even seen an organic certified brand use chemical fragrance. Yet another minefield but there are many really good brands, Inika is one for example though not cheap.

  6. Larissa, that is totally ridiculous. If you are a vegan. your chances of being an incubator are lower than a non-vegan in other countries affected by the mad-cow disease. With a shortage of blood donors everywhere, the Red Cross should take lifestyle into consideration when making their rules.

    1. Carolina, The way the Red Cross nurse explained it to me – a vegetarian/vegan for over 20 years, living in UK for 10 of them – was that even though I didn’t eat meat, there was no way to know that everything I ate in the UK was uncontaminated. The example she gave was my veggie burger being cooked next to a beef burger and being contaminated. I thought it was silly at first, but I completely understand now that just because *I* was careful, does not mean everyone around me was.

      1. Tara,

        I can’t imagine how they would determine that people are genuinely vegan in the first place.

        The fact that lipstick is involved in the equation, the Red Cross had an impossible job and the stakes were so high.

  7. I did not realize the connection between eating meat and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. My father died from it at age 78, having never lived outside of Oregon/California. We always wondered if it was from some tainted blood (he had numerous blood transfusions due to multiple ostomy surgeries) but had never been able to actually determine when/where he picked up the disease. But from diagnosis to death were less than 4 months. And neither I nor my children and grandchildren are allowed to donate blood. Have only become vegan for the last 9 months, but am thankful for the difference it is making in my life now!

  8. The information on Mad Cow is missing important information. NJ had multiple cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease over 30 years ago. How do I know this? My grandfather was one of them. The doctor discovered he had the disease because the same doctor was already treating someone else in the same hospital. They assumed it was from eating cow brains but my grandfather was German and the other person was from China, so you really can’t say it was from visiting the same country and eating the same meat. An article published around 10 years ago came from a woman from NJ who was also investigating this and reported there were actually 30 cases in NJ around the same time. The meat industry does not want you to know any of this.

  9. When you care for a patient with Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, the inexorable decline and death will teach you to avoid infection for life.

    1. I would like to know if blood that is received in transfusion has been screened for prions ? Or are potential blood donors screened prior to donating? I received blood in an emergency situation so the doctors didn’t stand around to debate the pros and cons.

    2. When you care for a patient with Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, the inexorable decline and death will teach you to avoid infection for life.
      Just reading about it when it was in all the news was enough to scare me straight (away from eating red meat. ‘-)

  10. I first went vegan (after five years as a vegetarian) in 1994 after hearing a talk by Howard Lyman, the Mad Cowboy, who claimed that there was no evidence that milk from contaminated cows was safe. I went vegan the next day, as did my friend who accompanied me to the talk. It was given at the local food co-op whose membership soared over the next few days!

  11. I too lived in England 30 years ago (as a vegetarian), for about a year, and consequently am prohibited from donating blood here in the U.S. However, assuming I read the NHS (UK) blood donation rules correctly, I would be allowed to donate blood in England (assuming I lived there). Go figure.

    I guess they’d never get any blood from anyone in the UK if they had the same rule the U.S. Red Cross has. Do they take the risk or do they have a test for “mad cow” or maybe I read the donation rules incorrectly??

  12. Now, with #45 gutting all regulatory agencies in a bid to get The Empire’s economy re-started, it will be much worse. What we are seeing in realtime on our LED large screens, computers, all with multiple speakers in surround sound is the collapse of The United States of America.

      1. Politics matter: over and over dr Greger shows how politics and bad government policies get in the way of health. Unless we get money out of politics, we’re screwed.

  13. Having been in the industry, I can say that all the companies I work require that all materials be non animal derived, All raw materials require a certification of orgin stating non animal derived,

    I can not speak about par soap.

  14. A traditional food in Mexico and with our Mexican American friends is menudo which requires honeycomb tripe. Perhaps people should know this.

  15. Protein prions were first discovered in Papua New Guinea if I am not mistaken as a sect of the people were eating their own dead ones.Later on British cattle farmers started feeding their animals with meat crushed together in cow feeds & mad cow disease started among the cattle & infected humans later when they ate the meat.Prions are hard to sterilize from any utensil ,knives or cutting boards.
    Vegans & vegetarians should have their pots,pans,knives,cutting boards separated even cups & plates because no matter how you wash them , prions stay there sticked.Blood transfusion is very dangerous as these days not much is done while testing is going on in the laboratories as only certain diseases are just tested.
    Animal products are allowed by the FDA in many day to day products we use,eat,put on our body , wash ourselves with ,spray on us, put on our hair & even in purifying the wines. Hard to get away from today’s manufacturers but be careful.Read labels & do not be fooled by the chemical names given.Research them & know the truth as the truth will set you free & your eyes will be open to lies shoved to us by the big manufacturers protected by all the government cronies & lobbyists.
    It is not a crime to be vegan or vegetarian.It is our God given choice.I am a vegan & will be forever.

  16. Just another reason to go vegan. That includes cosmetics. All of them, not just lipstick. There are a ton of options. You just gotta do your research and make sure the company you purchase from is credible. A lot of companies make a lot of false claims. Luckily there are people out there who weed the bad ones from the good ones.

    1. I’ll bet every human adult uses the S word at least once during the day. (Some of us a lot more than just once. :-)
      True, but rarely in mixed company for me.

      (Although I’m an orphan now, Residuals from my semi-strict Baptist up-bringing still govern my actions to some degree. ‘-)

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