Millions of U.S. military personnel and their families stationed in Europe before 1996 may have eaten British beef during the height of the Mad Cow Disease epidemic.

For 10 years following the emergence of BSE in British cattle in 1986, commissaries on U.S. bases in Europe continued to use beef from the U.K. There were no bans in place on British beef at the time that the world learned that the disease had jumped the species barrier through human consumption of infected beef.

No U.S. military personnel have been diagnosed with the human form of the disease, and the risk is “less than one per 10 billion servings,” says Army Colonel Scott Severin. However, symptoms can appear 10 years or longer aftera person becomes infected.

Military newspapers have reported the potential problem. “We feel we owed them accurate information, to let them know there is a risk, albeit very small, and try to allay a sense of alarm,” says Virginia Stephanakis of the Army Medical Department.

Only U.S. beef has been served to the military since 1990. Before that, about 35% of the beef sold in commissary stores was from the U.K. British beef continued to be sold on some U.S. bases after 1990, until the ban in 1996.

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