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Mad Cow Disease

or years I've seen a steady parade of articles about mad cow disease and the US beef industry, and they make me very, very uneasy. we're sitting on a time bomb, basically. US meat inspection is halfhearted, gutted by industry opposition, and has no entirely interest in actually finding mad cow disease in the US meat supply. So they do halfhearted testing, pass non-binding safety regulations, and just basically hope for the best.

All this despite the fact that virtually every scientist knowledgeable enough to comment on the issue has said that not only is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) extremely likely to turn up in the US beef supply, it's already here, and only our extremely lax testing keeps that from being an undeniable truth. As far most industry observers are concerned, the only real issue remaining to be debated is whether or not eating infected mad cows actually causes the human version of the disease. It hasn't been conclusively proven that prion transmit from the beef to humans, though most who deny it are cast as hopeless deniers, the type who were recently clinging to the "there's no proven link between HIV and AIDS" theory, and twenty years before were working for tobacco companies and insisting that lung cancer and cigarette smoke were entirely unrelated.

This page collects various blog entries on this subject, one that I'm admittedly very interested in, though not from a personal angle, since I haven't eaten any beef since the early 90s. It interests me more for the government vs. business angle, and my mind is pretty well made up on the issue. I think the mad cow/USDA thing will go down in history much like the car companies vs. Ralph Nader and his seatbelt crusade.  Contentious and hotly-debated at the time, with all sorts of science on every side and cries from industry of excessive government intrusion and imminent bankruptcy. And then 20 years later it seems literally insane that industry actually fought against seatbelts and airbags and safety glass and crumple zones and roofs that wouldn't collapse in a rollover.

 

More recent additions are added on the bottom, so scroll down to read/skim over it in order.  A lot of the news items are redundant, as are my comments, but I'm just amazed how often yet another damning story comes out, to almost no public reaction. People want to eat beef, people want to believe it's safe to do so, and they're really unwilling to entertain the concept, much less the all-but-proven fact, that it's not.

 

October 18, 2003

News from Canada, where the beef industry is dying due to some Mad Cow disease outbreaks that have made their beef impossible to sell for export. The ranchers are trying to get some media attention for their plight, and they got it, but not quite how they anticipated.

MONTREAL -- The scene is brief but brutal. With television cameras rolling, a cattleman raises a rifle to his shoulder and shoots a cow point-blank between the eyes, sending the animal crumpling to the ground.

The killing was meant to draw attention to the plight of cattle producers hurt by mad-cow disease. Instead, the stunt appears to have backfired.

The Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and television stations that aired the footage yesterday said they were deluged by callers who said the farmer's action was barbaric.

"People are revolted. They realize the animal is helpless," said Pierre Barnotti, executive director of the Montreal branch of the SPCA. "If [the farmers] thought this would mark them points, boy, did they bomb."

And what percentage of that deluge of callers have eaten a hamburger or steak within the past week, do you think? And you shouldn't need me to tell you that a sudden shot between the eyes is far more quick and humane than how slaughterhouses kill them.

 

 

December 25, 2003

The inevitable has occurred, years later than most everyone expected (largely due to the incredibly lax safety inspections meat goes through in the US) and Mad Cow Disease has been discovered in the US' beef production.  The only confirmed sighting yet is up in some hickass farm in Washington, but if this scare forces the beef industry to allow some more testing, you can be sure dozens and dozens more infected cows will be discovered.

Still, there's no real reason to worry.  After all, it's not as if BSE is a fatal, incurable disease that makes your brain literally rot away inside of your skull.  Oh wait, yes it is.

Meanwhile, Harrison said, investigators were working through the holiday to prevent a potential outbreak of the deadly disease and to calm public fears about the food supply. Government officials have said there is no threat to the food supply because the cow's brain and spine — nerve tissue where scientists say the disease is found — were removed before it was sent on for processing.

Humans can contract a fatal variant of mad cow disease by eating infected beef products, but experts say muscle cuts of beef — including steaks and roasts — are safe. Also hamburger ground from labeled cuts, such as chuck or round, poses little health risk, experts say.

"Even though this is Christmas Day, federal officials are working on the investigation," she said.

The government is trying to find the herd the cow was raised with, since the cow likely was sickened several years ago from eating feed made partly from an infected cow. The incubation period in cattle is four to five years, said Dr. Stephen Sundlof of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

I like the logic there.  We've got a cow on our farm that's so sick it can't even move, but hey, we'll slaughter it and mix its flesh into all the rest of our product anyway.  If you're cutting vegetables at home and you get one tomato that's rotten inside, do you cut it up and throw it into the salad anyway, and just figure there's plenty of good tomato there too, and no one will really notice?  If so, you may be cut out to be a cattle rancher.  I'll also be politely declining your dinner invitation, thank you.

They've ordered the recall of five tons of beef, but really, there's nothing to worry about.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the recall was an extra precaution.

But the government came under criticism on two fronts. John Stauber, the author of "Mad Cow U.S.A.," said the U.S. hasn't done enough to keep BSE out of the country.

Cattle get sick by eating feed that contains tissue from the brain and spine of infected animals. The United States has banned such feed since 1997.

"Here's the problem, the feed ban has been grossly violated by feed mills," Stauber said in a telephone interview from his home in Madison, Wis.

In one such case, X-Cel Feeds Inc., of Tacoma, Wash., admitted in a consent decree in July that it violated FDA regulations designed to prevent the possible spread of the disease.

You read that? If you didn't know, the standard practice in modern feedlots is to slaughter cows, butcher the good parts and sell those, and then grind up everything that's left and mix it into the food for the next crop of cows.  Yes, cows eating cows.  Yes, they evolved as herbivores.  And don't worry, they do that with chickens, pigs, and every other major meat crop too, all while numerous scientists warn that this is potentially very dangerous.

The cannibalism and recycling of diseases is in addition to incredible overcrowding on ranches and farms, highly unsanitary slaughtering conditions (most of the e-coli problems come from meat that's been tainted by the animal's own shit, full of intestinal parasites, being ground up into the hamburger that turns into your BigMac), and chemical cocktails that the animals are filled with, in efforts to get them to grow larger, mature faster, and not die from the diseases that they constantly suffer from during their brief lives.

If you want to read something that will really make you wonder why you still eat beef (assuming you do) check out the PETA page on mad cow disease.

Doesn’t the government protect the meat supply?

Because the infected cow was raised for dairy production, she had lived long enough to show symptoms of the disease. Most cows are killed before they turn 2 years old, and before they become symptomatic; no one would know whether they were infected with spongy brain disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) admits that it only tested about 20,000 cows for BSE last year—a statistically insignificant percentage of the approximately 40 million cows slaughtered annually.

But for real fun and laughs on the PETA site, you have to check out their comic-book style pamphlet, Your Mommy Kills Animals!  Besides the hilariously over-the-top cover illustration of a manic housewife wielding a butcher knife against a struggling, anthropomorphized bunny, it contains such comic gems as:

But how would you feel it someone took away your kitty or puppy, stomped on their head, and ripped their skin off their bodies?

...just so your greedy mommy can have that fur coat to show off in when she walks the streets.

In the forest, nasty men in boots catch animals with traps that have metal claws that snap shut on animals' legs. Ouch! Some animals bite off their own paws to get away! Mommy foxes do this because they want to get back to their babies to feed the, but they usually die anyway and their babies slowly stave to death, scared and all alone. Trapped animals who don't escape from the traps get stomped to death by the nasty men.

I like the part where mommy sounds like a street corner whore, and the bit about the nasty men in boots.  When did boots become a symbol of evil?  I would never wear fur, but I like boots.  Leather ones too.  Hope my feet don't get holes and rot away like my brain would if I kept eating hamburgers.

 

 

January 10, 2004

Good article on the Mad Cow situation.  Good from the aspect of knowing the risks.  Bad from the aspect of, "I like beef and I don't care how bad it is for me and I don't want to know how likely it is that I'm eating Mad Cow infected flesh all the damn time."

Many experts on bovine spongiform encephalopathy now suspect that BSE/mad cow has been in North America for at least a decade, that the beef industry and regulators have fought proper regulation from day one, that the current surveillance system is a don't-look-don't-find model and that the public-health risk from contaminated meat could be greater than most are prepared to admit.

"We have to take some serious actions," notes Yale University pathologist and mad-cow expert Laura Manuelidis. "It's here now, and we have to do something about it."

Want more?

The first North American case of mad cow probably appeared in 1985, on a Wisconsin mink farm. That's when Richard Marsh, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Wisconsin, discovered that mink fed "downer cattle" (technically any cow that has difficulty walking) from local dairy farms, went crazy and died. Prof. Marsh took samples of these mink brains and inoculated and fed them to bull calves. Each bull developed holes in the brain. He then fed infected cattle-bits back to mink, which developed more spongy brains.

His conclusion: "There must be an unrecognized scrapie-like disease (BSE-like agent) in cattle in the United States."

Before Prof. Marsh died in 1997, he pressed for a ban on feeding cattle-bits to cattle, and he warned that waiting for the first case of mad cow was like closing the barn door after the proverbial horse had run off. "With a disease having a three-to-eight-year incubation period, thousands of animals would be exposed before we recognized the problem and, if that happens, we will be in a decade of turmoil," he wrote.

Prof. Marsh was vilified and denigrated by the U.S. cattle industry for his work. His grant proposals to test more cattle were routinely turned down by government. When a consumer's group sued the U.S. government last year for not banning downer cows from the food chain, the U.S. government, like the industry, retorted: "BSE has never been found in the country's livestock," and said that the threat was "not real or immediate." It was as if Richard Marsh's work never existed. Speaking to U.S. journalist John Stauber, co-author of Mad Cow USA, Prof. Marsh once confessed: "By issuing warnings to industry, I thought industry would do the right thing. How could I have been so wrong?"

I hope that Prof. Marsh there is speaking rhetorically. If not he's about the most cluelessly naive man alive, to think that any industry will do anything for the public health or wellbeing if it's not profitable, and they're not forced to do so by government legislation.

Anyway, read the whole article for some great info. And enjoy your next cheeseburger.

 

 

January 30, 2004

Just in case you had managed to forget the mad cow problem with American beef, here's some encouraging news.

After insisting for years that blood from cattle is safe to feed young calves as a substitute for cow milk, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suddenly reversed itself this week. It banned the practice as part of a series of new rules meant to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, which cattle can get from eating infected beef products.

That was not the FDA's only turnaround from long-held food-safety policies. It also banned restaurant scraps and chicken coop waste as protein supplements in cattle feed. The move will end the possibility of feed contamination from infected beef left on tables or in chicken feed.

So until now, it was okay to feed cows, which are rather famously herbivores: 1) cow blood as a substitute for milk, 2) ground up processed chicken shit, and 3) restaurant scraps.  You'll note that they've also banned feeding them ground up cow by products, however, that's not exactly cutting into their meat consumtion:

Currently, the FDA allows cattle to be fed remnants of animals that include pigs, chickens, cats, dogs and rodents. Its rationale: Experience shows mad cow is spread only when cattle eat beef parts. But laboratory studies suggest these animals may silently carry mad cow. A 2002 National Institutes of Health study, for instance, showed that mice injected with the disease transmitted it when ground up into feed, even though they showed no signs of illness themselves.

Beyond the remaining gaps in FDA regulations, the U.S. still lacks an aggressive testing program for mad cow. It tests only two to three cattle per 10,000 annually. Japan, by contrast, tests all cattle at slaughter.

Enjoy that cheeseburger.

 

 

February 5, 2004

More good news about Mad Cow Disease in the US.  Turns out the guy who actually killed the cow that tested positive for Mad Cow disease says there's been a huge cover up and that the official story is all lies. 

On Dec. 9, at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Moses Lake, Wash., Mr. Louthan killed the only mad cow found in the United States.

Two weeks later, he says, he was dismissed after four years as Vern's slaughterer when he talked to the television crews outside and told them he was sure the cow, ground into hamburger, had already been eaten. The plant's owners did not return calls seeking comment.

There's some entertaining information about how cows are actually killed, too, courtesy of Mr. Louthan.

Mr. Louthan is no animal-rights champion. His good-old-boy braggadocio and Texas drawl make him sound like a parking-lot matador with a knocking gun — a tube with a blank pistol cartridge that drives a bolt into the brain. Killing is "really fun," and beats deboning, which he calls "girls' work."

"I'm fast, I'm efficient, and I know how to get in through their flight zones," he said, meaning the way nervous cows turn to flee.

At Vern's, he killed about 20 old dairy cows a day and buffaloes on Thursdays, along with the odd ostrich, emu and alpaca. The now famous cow, he said, was a white Holstein from the Sunny Dene Ranch in Mabton, Wash.

She was "a good walker," he said. As the driver poked her with a cattle prod, her eyes were "all white, bugging out."

"She wouldn't come down that step," he went on, "and I knew she was fixing to double back in and trample the downers, and that's a mess," so he killed her there.

Oh, and that stuff the USDA has been telling us about how Mad Cow is only in the brain and spine and how it's never used for human consumption?  All lies.

Mr. Louthan was also the plant's carcass splitter, and he has a warning about that too.

With a 400-pound band saw, he said, splitters cleave the spinal column from neck to tail as hot-water jets blast fat and bone dust off the saw. The slurry, with spinal cord in it, "runs all over the beef," he said. The carcasses are then hosed with hot water and sprayed with vinegar.

Bucky Gwartney, director of research for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, confirmed that most American slaughterhouses do the same. Since the Dec. 31 ruling that all cows older than 30 months must have their brains and spinal cords removed, "processors are actively looking at changes," he said.

So they're "actively looking" into a way to keep the slurry created by high speed slicing of the brain and spine from running all over the rest of the meat, now that it's illegal? Well, that's certainly encouraging news.  Perhaps in a few years, if it won't cut into profits too much, they might actually make some changes.

Man, when the epidemic of mad cow disease in humans begins in about 10 or 15 years, there are going to be lawsuits filed that will make the cigarette ones look like kids' stuff.  Unless, of course, corporations have bribed enough lawmakers to pass so many "tort reform" laws by then that class action lawsuits are illegal.

 

 

February 7, 2004

Speaking of catchy cartoons, here are a couple that I meant to post yesterday, after the latest "You're not really still eating beef, are you?" news item

  • Mad Cow, courtesy of Totally Tom.  It's funny and insulting and has nothing to do with the beef industry.
  • The Meatrix, is a PETA styled "where your food really comes from" type cartoon inspired by the Matrix.  It's a lot better than you expect.  And you pretty much have to chuckle at "Moopheus" don't you?

 

 

February 13, 2004

So there was that one Mad Cow in Washington and some of its meat might have gotten into the food supply, but at least they quarantined all of the other cows near it and made sure the risk couldn't spread any further, right?

Federal officials ended their investigation into the country's first case of mad cow disease yesterday after failing to locate almost two-thirds of the 80 cattle that had entered the United States from Canada with an infected Holstein.

The 52 missing animals include 11 cows believed to be at higher risk because they were born about the same time as the Holstein and may have eaten the same contaminated feed. "The paper trail has gotten cold; we have not been able to trace those animals," said W. Ron DeHaven, chief veterinary officer at the Department of Agriculture. "Some of them very likely have gone to slaughter," he said.

Mmm, yummy.

Although DeHaven said the seven-week investigation had been exceptionally successful -- "We never expected to be able to find all of them; it's remarkable we found as many as we did" -- the deputy USDA administrator had tried to soothe public fears in December by promising that most of the herd would be found alive.

"Most of them are likely still alive," he said Dec. 27, according to a USDA transcript. "Because the records that are kept on dairy cattle are typically very good . . . we feel confident that we are going to be able to determine the whereabouts of most, if not all, of these animals within the next several days."

Yesterday, DeHaven said that many of the animals' ear tags had been lost and that the chances of finding the rest of the herd was "pretty slim at this point."

"It's time to move on," he said.

Well, it's nice to see that a government agency funded with our tax dollars, existing primarily to ensure the quality and safety of the food supply, is so deeply concerned with this potential health risk.  "It's time to move on." indeed.

I'm surprised he didn't add, "Look, anyone who knows anything about the livestock and slaughtering business knows for damn sure that dozens of Mad Cows are slaughtered and ground up and sold every year, and that our woefully inadequate testing procedures and regulations won't do a damn thing to stop it so long as the business remains profitable and the owners keep greasing the coffers of livestock state congressmen. And no, I really couldn't give a shit if half of you people get spongiform encephalitis so bad that it eats holes in your brain large enough to stick French Fries through."

 

 

February 21, 2004

Good news in the mad cow case.  Congress is at last on the program, and may begin to put some heat on the USDA, which has been criminally lax in its role in protecting the public health.  They are very good at working hand in hand with the meat industry to cover up dangers and ensure profitability, though.

With three witnesses now insisting the mad cow discovered in Washington was able to walk, a congressional committee yesterday said testing for the disease should be expanded beyond "downer" animals. In a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Ann Veneman, the House committee that oversees government agencies also recommended that the total number of animals tested be boosted substantially.

But the USDA is trying real hard, right?  They wouldn't intentionally cover up this sort of thing.

"Now I do not wish to sensationalize this, but it is a fact," Thomas Ellestad said in a sworn affidavit provided to the committee. "This cow did walk on the trailer at the dairy and off the trailer at our establishment."

Co-manager of Vern's Moses Lake Meats, Ellestad said he hadn't spoken out publicly before because he had faith the USDA would act decisively to protect both the public health and the meat industry. But Ellestad said he's disappointed in the agency's response and frustrated with what he sees as the scapegoating of his slaughterhouse.

"Our business ground to a halt, and our employees' work hours were cut drastically or entirely," he said. "The efforts ... to portray our plant as a 'downer' plant could be considered a smokescreen."

For the past year, Ellestad said, the slaughterhouse had a policy of refusing downer cattle, though it would slaughter animals unable to walk because they'd been injured in transit. He said USDA officials knew that. But last fall, before the mad-cow case was discovered, Ellestad said, the agency asked him to collect samples from slaughtered cattle for mad-cow testing anyway, because other slaughterhouses in the region refused to do so. Ellestad also said that shortly after the cow tested positive, the USDA ordered the slaughterhouse to stop collecting brain samples for mad-cow testing.

As always, enjoy your next cheeseburger.

 

 

March 4, 2004

Since I can't help myself, here's yet another damning/depressing article about Mad Cow disease in the US, and the USDA's clear desire to cover up any evidence of it, regardless of the health risks.

A beef producer in Kansas has proposed testing all its cattle for mad cow disease so it can resume exports to Japan, but it is encountering resistance from the Agriculture Department and other beef producers.

American beef exports have plummeted since Dec. 23 when a cow in Washington State was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or B.S.E., a fatal disease that can be passed to humans who eat infected cattle tissue. To assure the safety of its meat, the company, Creekstone Farms of Arkansas City, Kan., a subsidiary of the Enterprise Management Group, wants to use rapid diagnostic tests that are routinely used in Japan and many European nations.

But no rapid tests have been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture, and department officials pointed out yesterday that it was against the law for any company to sell or market any unapproved diagnostic test. They said they would not respond to Creekstone's request until they evaluated the legal, regulatory and trade implications raised.

So they want to use a test to insure their meat is safe, a test that's far better and faster than the ones being used now.  A test that's used all over the world in countries that really are concerned with the health of their cattle and people.  And the USDA refuses to let them use it, and is desperately stalling for time to find a way to keep such improved tests from becoming common place in the US meat industry.  It's almost enough to make you think they are trying to cover something up, isn't it?

In case you think I'm exaggerating about their delay tactics, could this make it any more clear?

According to a statement from J. B. Penn, the under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, the Agriculture Department will respond to Creekstone when it has completed its evaluation.

A press spokesman, Jim Rogers, said that the reply will "take some time" and that anyone interested should "check back in future."

I defy you to follow the logic Dan Murphy here throws out.

Other meat producers are upset by the company's request, saying it has broken ranks in an industry besieged by bad news. Dan Murphy, vice president for public affairs at the American Meat Industry, said American beef was so safe that widescale testing was unnecessary.

"Everybody is hurting from the export ban," Mr. Murphy said, "but their solution is not the right one." Any testing, he added, should take place under government oversight.

In other words: It's so safe that there's no need to test it to prove that it's safe.

How can this idiot not be fired for this on the spot?  Is there any way that other countries don't see this sort of thing and keep up their bans on US beef imports forever?  I hope they do, and that beef sales in the US drop about 90%. That's the only way the industry will ever get serious about this, and begin testing, and when they test they'll find tons of cows with Mad Cow, and only then (assuming the USDA and meat industry can't cover it all up) will public pressure and economic necessity force them to make industry changes to cow feed (no more cannibalism) and slaughtering techniques that will end Mad Cow disease in the US meat supply.

 

 

April 10, 2004

This sounds identical to a news item from a few weeks ago, but since I can't seem to pass up any of the Mad Cow stories, here we go. It's pretty amazing.

The Department of Agriculture refused yesterday to allow a Kansas beef producer to test all of its cattle for mad cow disease, saying such sweeping tests were not scientifically warranted.

The producer, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wanted to use recently approved rapid tests so it could resume selling its fat-marbled black Angus beef to Japan, which banned American beef after a cow slaughtered in Washington State last December tested positive for mad cow. The company has complained that the ban is costing it $40,000 a day and forced it to lay off 50 employees.

So this company produces high quality beef for the Japanese market, is sure none of its cows have Mad Cow disease, and wants to prove it by paying for extensive testing... and the US government won't let them do it. Is this not insane? They're actually preventing this company from proving their food product is safe.  It's not like the company is asking for special government subsidies to pay for it, or saying that every other meat company has to do it.  They just want to do it themselves, and they're shouldering all of the expense.

And the government won't let them do it, and can't even offer a reasonable explanation why not. I guess that either they're afraid these guys would find Mad Cow and it would kill the market, or them testing their cows would kill the market for other beef that wasn't proven safe, since other beef isn't safe and if it was all tested Mad Cow galore would be found. Does anyone still eat hamburgers at this point?

There's some comic relief from an industry spokesman, just to lighten the mood. Bonus points for him throwing in possibly the worst analogy of all time.

Gary Weber of the cattlemen's association called 100 percent testing misleading to consumers because it would create a false impression that untested beef was not safe. He compared it to demanding that all cars be crash tested to prove they are safe

Um, Gary... The government does require that all cars are crash tested to prove they're safe. Not every single car made, but each car type and model.  See, the difference is that 1) we're not eating cars, and 2) crash testing a car destroys it; you can still eat a cow after testing to be sure it's not going to give you a horrible, fatal, incurable disease, and 3) cars are made by factories that produce them all identically. You can't just test one cow and then make 50,000 exact copies of it.

 

 

May 19, 2004

More good news about mad cow disease. The USDA continues to do as little as possible to test for the deadly (to the cows, and people who eat them) Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in cows. It's not just laziness or entropy, they are consciously going out of their way to avoid testing cows that are likely to have mad cow disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture did not test any cows for mad cow disease in the past seven months at the same Texas facility where federal testing policies for the deadly disorder were violated last month, United Press International has learned.

The USDA also failed to test a single cow in 2002 at another Texas slaughterhouse that processes high-risk, downer cows, according to agency testing records obtained by UPI under the Freedom of Information Act. Downer cows are unable to stand or walk, which can be an indication of mad cow disease, as well as other disorders.

...at nearby San Angelo Packing, a facility that does process downers, the USDA conducted no tests in 2002 and 45 mad cow tests in the first 10 months of FY 2003, according to the agency's mad cow testing records. San Angelo is the 22nd largest slaughterhouse in the country, processing some 142,000 cattle per year, according to Cattle Buyers Weekly magazine.

Given how hard the USDA and the beef industry work to not find mad cow in the US beef supply, it's actually pretty amazing that they happened upon that one infected cow in Washington, several months ago. They clearly learned a lesson from that incident; it's really, really bad for business to find mad cow in US cows. So they tried to cover up that find, and they're doing all they can to not find it again, while still testing some miniscule percentage of the US beef. Testing cows that are old and might actually have the disease would be bad, so they skip plants like the ones listed in this article, and stick to testing young, healthy cows that are extremely unlikely to have developed the disease yet.

As the article notes, US beef imports were banned in over 50 countries when the mad cow was found in Washington, and lots of those countries still haven't returned to importing US beef. You might find this painfully cynical, but here's my take on things. The USDA and the beef industry know that mad cow disease is rampant in the US beef supply. They also know that changing the production techniques to make the food safe would cut deeply into the profit margin, and would require industry-wide changes, in raising, slaughtering, and everything else.

Since Americans don't care about getting mad cow disease (witness the strong beef sales even during the press coverage of the mad cow in Washington, and the disinterest in continuing stories about the woeful state of meat safety in the US), and the beef industry mostly sells their product inside the US, they've simply decided to carry on as is, and make as much money as they can now. It's not worth the expense to make the changes that would ensure that US beef is free from CJD; they don't give a shit about meat safety in the US, and the export market isn't big enough to offset the costs.

Eventually it'll all blow up in their faces when something happens to cause much more testing, and dozens and dozens of infected mad cows are found in the US. At that time I imagine they'll try to wriggle out by saying they just followed procedure, and they feel awful, and since the US beef industry is essential to the nation's economy, they just need a couple of billion tax dollars to retrofit all of the slaughtering facilities, test and weed out the infected cattle, etc. All the stuff that industry would have to pay for now, if they owned up to the problem.

I've said it before, but I still maintain that in 20 years we'll have class action lawsuits from people with holes in their brains (or their surviving relatives) that will make the whole tobacco lawsuits look like a lemonade stand robbery. Assuming the beef and cattle industry hasn't managed to buy special class action lawsuit protection from congress by then, the way gun manufacturers recently did.

 

 

July 18, 2004

I posted just about every mad cow disease news item for a while, until I got sick of it and let them slide for a couple of months. Well, here's one more, just in case you've been missing them. 

The FDA said in January it wanted to stop cattle blood from getting into livestock feed. Also targeted was poultry litter, which could contain spilled poultry feed made with cattle protein. On Friday, the agency said that in addition to those restrictions, it had developed new ones and wanted to study all of them as a package.

One is a ban on all protein from mammals in feed for cattle. Another is removing high-risk materials, such as the brains and spinal cords of cattle 30 months or older, from feed for all animals. That would prevent cattle from eating prions in feed intended for other species. The new proposals are in line with recommendations made in February by an international review panel convened by the Agriculture Department. The FDA said those recommendations offer a more comprehensive approach to keeping the feed supply safe and might make some of the January proposals unnecessary.

Consumer advocates said the government was passing up a chance to act. They had been waiting for the agency to put forward the formal proposals that it had promised in January. At that time, the FDA had given no date.

"They are fiddling while Rome burns," said Jean Halloran, director of the Consumer Policy Institute of Consumers Union. "They could have gone ahead with these measures immediately."

Because, you know, we need much more study to determine if it's a bad thing for cows to eat chicken shit, or drink the blood of other cows, or eat their ground spinal cords and diseased brains.  Mustn't be hasty in our defense of the public health.

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