Mad Cow Blood Ban

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In a major expansion of the U.S. firewall against Mad Cow disease, the American Red Cross now says it will begin banning blood donations from anywhere in Western Europe, not just Great Britain, this summer.

The ban puts the Red Cross at odds with critics who say it is too conservative and threatens the entire U.S. blood supply, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

The Red Cross, which supplies half of all blood donations in America, says it has no choice. Because Mad Cow disease has spread beyond Great Britain and because there is no blood test for the human variation, the Red Cross will decline blood donations from anyone who has lived six months or more anywhere in Europe.
"We believe this poses a risk that we do not believe we should take," says Dr. Bernadine Healy, president of the American Red Cross and a medical consultant to CBS News.

"We don't want to frighten anyone," says Healy. "We are not saying this is a high risk or a low risk, all we are saying is there is a risk out there."

But the Red Cross decision could be frightening to many Americans. In New York City, for example, one-fourth of the blood supply is donated directly from Europe. This isn't blood from Americans who've lived there, it's blood from European donors who give New York 3,000 units a week, to make up the city's shortfall.

Take this away, says Dr. Robert Jones, head of the New York Blood Center, and you get chaos.

"We would have a medical care crisis," Jones says. He points out that a 25 percent loss of blood donations would close emergency rooms, delay surgeries and put patients in real danger – when the risk of getting Mad Cow from human blood hasn't been proven.

"You have to ask yourself when you are weighing these risks and dangers, which is the greater risk and danger," Jones says.

This disagreement between the Red Cross and New York City will soon be settled by the Food and Drug Administration, which will set a national policy on the exclusion of blood donors.

Whenever the ruling comes, it will only highlight what isn't known about Mad Cow. Blood safety is critical to the U.S. defense line against the disease, yet the experts sharply disagree on where to draw that line.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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