For the past month, the hysteria swirling in the British Isles and the European Union has intrigued me. The eye of the maelstrom is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or what is more commonly called mad cow disease. The British government is considering slaughtering all the cows in the country to rid the nation's herd of any and all mad cow disease. The yet unproven theory is that contaminated beef cause humans to contract Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The fear of BSE and CJD has prevented people from eating British beef. So, in spite of the efforts by the British Minister of Agriculture, whose name is appropriately Mr. Hogg, most people worry that mad cow disease can be transmitted to humans by eating beef.

The mad cow controversy came about because ten people reportedly died in the last ten years from CJD. The link between mad cow disease and CJD hasn't been conclusively proven. However, the hysteria continues; even in America, the apocalyptic frenzy has raised questions about whether any of our herds have mad cow disease.

For awhile, I was also caught up in the paranoia about mad cow disease. While surfing the World Wide Web, I was particularly distressed to discover that CJD's "onset is usually in middle or late life, typically in the fifth decade." I am fifty-three, and I can't afford to run the risk of getting CJD if I plan to rival George Burns' one hundred plus years. My fears have been allayed by our governmental officials' assurances that they don't think we have anything to worry about.

You are probably wondering how we got ourselves into this mess. Well, it is our own fault. Somebody decided to recycle sheep parts that aren't eaten by humans into feed fed to cows. The theory is that sheep with scrapies was ground up into cow feed and contaminated the British herds. That may or may not be, but I cannot understand why we are feeding sheep parts with or without scrapies to cow. Cows are herbivorous (animals who eat grasses or grains and not meat from other animals). Had God wanted cows to be carnivores, the almighty would have made them like lions. If we think we have problems with mad cow disease, just imagine what it will be like when entire herds of cows acquire a taste for meat. Are we prepared for the ensuing chaos in once bucolic America?

In addition, no one seems to be troubled by the moral issue of feeding cows red meat. If you were a vegetarian, how would you feel if someone mixed meat in your bean spouts and soy bean side dish?

If you pause to think about this before you fall asleep as I have for the past month, all sorts of Orwellian fears will keep you up all night. My paranoid feeling is that some of the animals from George Orwell's Animal Farm will soon be getting even with us for our past abuses to those in the animal kingdom. Who knows, perhaps this is a conspiracy of some irate Hindu cows upset with us for forcing herbivores to become carnivores.

What intrigues me more than anything else is not how a few cows have gone mad but how so many humans worldwide have gone totally berserk over mad cow disease. The poor cows can't help themselves, but we are intellectually at the top of the food chain. One would think that we could intelligently work through this whole bovine thing before we wander off to mad cow la-la land.

What is even more maddening about mad cow disease is that while we don't know about the relationship between BSE and CJD, we do know about things that kill ten of thousands more people than ever feared being affected by tainted British beef. Rather than getting hung up on mad cow disease, we could eliminate smoking, exercise daily, and reduce our intake of fat (especially saturated fat) from our diet.

Even though the jury is still out on our risk with BSE, there is absolutely no doubt that if we stopped smoking and clogging our arteries with cholesterol, we could make the lives of millions happier and healthier.

While I go back to the World Wide Web to stay currant on this unfolding story, ask yourself, who is really mad with mad cow disease? Next, plan a more realistic way of remaining healthy other than refusing to eat British beef.

This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph.