Contacts: Jim Van Alstine (518) 678-2003 or Joan Zacharias
January 6, 2004 – With news of the first known confirmed case
of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), there is renewed concern about the
United States’ beef supply. It is the sincere hope of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian
Society (MHVS) that no person will be afflicted with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
Disease (vCJD), nor any other cow will fall ill with BSE in connection with this
incident. However, given the industrial practices common in livestock feed,
slaughter and meat processing, there may well be a risk to both animal and human
The United States tested for BSE only 12,500 times in 2002,
from a market of over 36 million slaughtered cattle. Although testing should
have doubled in 2003, the rate remains a fraction of Europe’s, which tests over
120,000 animals each week in a far smaller market. Almost all cattle tested in
the U.S. are “downer” animals who already show symptoms of BSE. Animals not yet
displaying symptoms are not identified for testing. BSE can be present for years
before symptoms show, just as humans suffering from vCJD can carry the
degeneration-causing prions for decades before falling ill.
Imprudent feed and slaughter practices leave the U.S.
susceptible to a BSE outbreak and a subsequent vCJD pandemic. It is permitted in
the U.S. to use chicken litter (a blend including manure, feathers and wasted
feed) from the floors of chicken houses as a cattle feed ingredient. Cattle and
other animal remains are ingredients in the chicken feed, which through the
litter may be reprocessed into cattle feed, resulting in the known dangerous
practice of feeding cattle remains to cattle.
Following the BSE and vCJD outbreak in Britain during the
1990s, the U.S. enacted some reforms to feed industry practices and implemented
a testing regimen. Although the reforms were far less stringent than those
implemented in Europe, the USDA repeatedly assured us that beef was safe and the
risk of a BSE case was insignificant. Now the USDA, under the direction of
former beef industry lobbyist Ann Veneman, again assures us that the beef supply
is safe. Is the USDA to be trusted this time?
As frightening as the prospect of a BSE outbreak and vCJD
pandemic may be, other diseases common to U.S. beef eaters remain far more
likely. Heart disease, obesity, colon cancer, diabetes and food poisoning all
claim far more victims than would any likely vCJD outbreak.
The Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society recommends that the best way
for consumers to improve the safety of their food supply and stave off
meat-related disease, including vCJD, is to choose a vegetarian diet, based on
locally grown and preferably organic foods. Know where your food comes from: Buy
a share in a local organic farm, shop at local farmers’ markets, join a food
buying club or co-op, or grow your own. Ask local supermarkets and school
cafeterias to offer more locally grown organic produce.
MHVS, a volunteer community nonprofit organization, has been
active in the Hudson Valley for over eight years helping individuals and
families transition to a meatless diet. To request a free vegetarian starter kit
with recipes, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.mhvs.org
Jim Van Alstine – MHVS member and Greene County
resident…former employee of Farm Sanctuary, an organization that called for a
ban on using downer cows for meat as early as 1998 – (518) 678-2003 (no e-mail).
– Watkins Glen-based Farm Sanctuary’s website, with click-throughs to
recent articles on Mad Cow, including a NY Times feature (1/2/2004) on Farm
– Howard Lyman’s website…Howard was a co-defendant in the famous Oprah
Winfrey “meat defamation” trial in 1998…fourth-generation cattle rancher from
Montana turned vegetarian.
– Dr. Michael Greger’s website…graduate of Cornell University School of
Agriculture and Tufts School of Medicine…long history (since 1993) of public
speaking on mad cow disease…has contributed to many books and articles on the
subject and currently coordinates the mad cow disease website for the Organic
– a comprehensive source for vegetarian news and views, with links to