Animal Writes
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From 4 January 2004 Issue

How Now, Mad Cow
By Greg Lawson - [email protected]

Steer Clear of Beef. That would be my message to anyone concerned about food safety. Ever since mad cow disease was discovered in the US on December 22, government officials have seen it as their first priority to reassure the public that our food supply is completely safe. They tell us that they are taking every possible measure to prevent the spread of BSE, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. But all I have seen so far is the spread of BS.

On Christmas Eve, the Food and Drug Administration issued the following statement in a press release...."This one discovered case of BSE does not mean that the US food supply is any less safe today than it was yesterday." Hmm, that's true, but it's also a bit misleading. This utterance by the FDA does not mean that the federal government is any less truthful about the safety of our food supply today than it was yesterday.

One early tactic by the federal government to minimize the impact of the discovery of BSE, was to accuse the cow of being an immigrant. "This cow came from Canada." The American public can breathe a sigh of relief, our cows are sane, this was a foreigner. This almost makes it seem like it was an attack by a bovine suicide terrorist. The truth is, it is very easy for cows from Canada and Mexico to enter our borders, in fact, it is much easier to get a green card to work in the US if you are a cow instead of a human.

It could have just as easily been a domestic cow instead of a foreigner who developed BSE. Feed producers have been ignoring the 1997 ban on feeding cows back to cows. A report from the General Accounting Office issued in 2002 found some ranchers in the US still violate the FDAís feed ban and do feed cow tissue to cattle. The GAO concluded: "While (mad cow disease) has not been found in the United States, federal actions do not sufficiently ensure that all (mad cow)-infected animals or products are kept out or that if (mad cow) were found, it would be detected promptly and not spread to other cattle through animal feed or enter the human food supply."

Federal officials continue to make the false statement that muscle cuts of beef present no risk, that prions, the malformed proteins that cause BSE, are only found in the spinal cord and brain. In 2002, Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions, found that muscle cells could contain prions. Similar research in Germany in 2003 confirmed these results that there can be prions in the muscles of animals.

The discovery of BSE in our country has shown how ineffective our food recall system is. It is now almost a month since the meat from this infected cow was distributed and yet some media outlets in California and other states are just now announcing the recalled items. There is no doubt that some of the meat has already been consumed.

One good thing has come out of all this. On December 30th, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman announced a ban on the slaughter of downer cows for human consumption. Animal advocates had been working for the last decade to make this reform. It is a small step in cleaning up the US food supply, but it will mean less suffering for the animals who had been pulled off trucks with ropes at the slaughterhouses. Perhaps ranchers will take more precautions to prevent downer cows in the first place.

Hopefully another reform that will take place will be more testing. We only test for BSE in 20,000 cows of the 33 million we slaughter each year. Itís no wonder we havenít discovered a case until now. Japan tests every cow they slaughter and have found nine cases so far, some in young animals who showed no symptoms. More testing may show that the US does have a problem with itís food supply after all.

It is bizarre that mad cow disease causes this much panic in consumers and investors. Since BSE was discovered in Great Britain in the mid 1980s, only 153 people have died from the disease worldwide. Over 5000 people die each year in the US from E. coli, listeria, salmonella and other pathogens found in meat and millions more are sickened. This is a much better reason to give up meat than mad cow disease.

Compassion is the best reason of all to go vegan.

Go on to An Unlikely Angel
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