06/11/2005: Time to go vegetarian?
or maybe just swear off beef for the duration: Brain degeneration at the Dept. of Agriculture (David Shuster)
Since this is the time of year when so many of us head to barbecues, I want to alert you to a story you need to know. Our federal government is putting all of us at risk of mad cow disease. And the incompetence and erratic approach of the Department of Agriculture has become so bizarre that one begins to wonder if some officials at that agency are deliberately trying to get fired.Of course, it's a great American capitalist tradition that no potential problem gets addressed until it becomes an actual problem, and people start dying, all in the name of profit maximization.
First, a refresher: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE is an infectious disease in cattle that causes their brains to degenerate. Animals with the disease will often stagger and become hopelessly agitated before they die, thus the name “mad cow.” The disease is usually fatal to people who eat infected beef. And since the proteins that cause the disease can survive temperatures hot enough to melt lead... turning a hamburger into a hockey puck (while killing off other potential problems) will not make BSE meat safe to eat.
At the moment, there appears to be an outbreak of mad cow disease in Japan... and American researchers are incredibly nervous that we may be on the verge of a deadly mad cow outbreak here in the United States. That’s what makes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s approach so troubling.
As it stands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture refuses to even consider the main recommendations put forward by the World Health Organization that have stopped mad cow disease across Europe. What are these recommendations? The first is testing. The other is to stop the practice of feeding cow blood, tissue, and slaughterhouse waste to other cows. I can hear some of you now: “Come on, Shuster, that feeding practice is so grotesque it couldn’t possibly be happening in the United States.”
Actually, it is happening a lot. Sure, there are some livestock producers who don’t give their animals the kind of feed that contains cow blood or waste. But many livestock producers do. And the fact is, much of the commercially produced calf feed available today contains the very stuff that could spread mad cow disease throughout our food chain.
What is the Department of Agriculture doing about this? Nothing. As I said, the Department of Agriculture refuses to even consider stronger regulations that would put an end to this disgusting practice. But it gets even worse. The department is doing everything it can to assure the public that our food chain “is safe.” Thus, we have a ridiculous pep rally like the one on Thursday at the University of Minnesota. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will, as his press release says, “hold a roundtable discussion regarding the safety of North American beef...” Those invited to participate include USDA officials, producers, packers, and others. Who are the others? Groups that don’t want more testing and don’t want the government passing regulations that would make calf feed cleaner and thus slightly more expensive. In fact, consumer groups, organic livestock companies, and beef producers who oppose allowing cows to eat cow blood and slaughterhouse waste will not be allowed to participate.
The irony is that if the Department of Agriculture really cared about the U.S. meat industry, the department would add a little pain now to prevent the industry from being decimated down the road when an outbreak occurs and nobody wants to buy U.S. meat. But once again, it’s all about short-term profits and paying back your political contributors. And consumers are left holding the bag... or in this case, mourning the deaths of loved ones who could die suddenly from the human form of BSE.
In a thread on the SKEPTIC mailing list, one of the regular contributors reminded us of a quote from Dilbert that is appropriate to these practices: I think that they'd kill us in our sleep and sell our organs if the return on investment was right...
It's only a matter of time.
Len on 06.11.05 @ 12:10 PM CST