is it out of our minds?
Badlands Journal editorial board
America's Mad Cow Crisis
by John Stauber
Americans might remember that when the first mad cow was confirmed in the United States in December, 2003, it was major news. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been petitioned for years by lawyers from farm and consumer groups I worked with to stop the cannibal feeding practices that transmit this horrible, always fatal, human and animal dementia. When the first cow was found in Washington state, the government said it would stop such feeding, and the media went away. But once the cameras were off and the reporters were gone nothing substantial changed.
In the United States, dairy calves are still taken from their mothers and fed the blood and fat of dead cattle. This is no doubt a way to infect them with the mad cow disease that has now been incubating here for decades, spread through such animal feeding practices. No one knows how the latest dairy cow was infected, the fourth confirmed in the United States. Maybe it was nursed on cow's blood. Perhaps it was fed feed containing cattle fat with traces of cattle protein. Or perhaps there is a mad cow disease in pigs in the United States, which simply has not been found yet, because pigs are not tested for it at all, even though pigs are fed both pig and cattle byproducts, and then the blood, fat and other waste parts of these pigs are fed to cattle.
All these U.S. cattle feeding methods are long banned and illegal in other countries that suffered through but eventually dealt properly with mad cow disease. Here, rather than stopping the transmission of the disease by stopping the cannibal feeding, mad cow is simply covered up with inadequate testing and very adequate public relations. US cattle are still fed mammalian blood, fat and protein, risking human deaths and threatening the long term safety of human blood products, simply to provide the U.S. livestock industry with a cheap protein source and a cheap way to get rid of dead animal waste.Docile, eating what they are fed, trusting the rancher all the way to the slaughterhouse. Is that just the cows, or is it us too?
I began researching this issue around 1989, long before the disease was confirmed to have jumped from cattle to the people eating them, as announced by the British government in 1996. In 1997 I co-authored Mad Cow USA, warning that the disease was likely already here and spreading, since the animal cannibalism that caused its outbreak in Britain and spread it to other countries was actually more widespread in the United States than anywhere.
Some years ago responsible U.S. beef companies wanted to test their animals for mad cow disease and label their beef as being disease free, but they were forbidden under penalty of law from doing so. Only the USDA can test for mad cows in America. In 2004 and 2005, after two additional mad cows were discovered in Texas and Alabama, the United Sates government declared that obviously mad cow wasn't much of a problem and gutted it's anemic testing program. Today only about 40,000 cattle a year are tested, out of tens of millions slaughtered. It's amazing that the California cow was even detected given this pathetic testing program that seems well designed to hide rather than find mad cows.
The prevention of mad cow disease is relatively simple. If your country has it, test each animal before it goes to slaughter to keep the diseased animals out of the food chain. Cheap, accurate and easy tests are now available in other countries but illegal here. Testing cattle both identifies the true extent of the disease, and keeps infected animals from being eaten in your sausage or hamburger. In this manner countries like Britain, Germany, France and Japan have controlled their problem through testing and a strict ban on cannibal feed.
Once mad cow disease moves into the human population of a country, all bets are off as to what could happen next. It's a very slow disease, it develops invisibly over decades in someone who has been infected, and it is always fatal. We'll know a lot more in fifty years, but the future looks worrisome. In Britain people are dying from mad cow disease, people who never consumed infected meat. They used medical products containing human blood, and that blood was infected because it was from infected people. There is no test to identify infectious prions, the causal agent, in blood.
Almost none of this information appeared in news stories about the California mad cow. Instead the headlines and the talking heads fed us the line that the United States fixed this problem long ago, and the fact that only 4 mad cows have been detected so far is proof of our success. Oprah Winfrey once tried via her talk show to warn about this, way back in 1996, but Texas cattlemen dragged her and her guest Howard Lyman into court and she had to spend many millions of dollars defending herself from the supposed crime of slandering meat.
Oprah won her case, which was probably unfortunate for the rest of us because had she been convicted the ensuing appeals court trial might have gotten enough attention to wake up Americans to the truth. Instead Oprah learned her lesson - shut up and you won't get sued. Other media learned too that if the government and industry can silence Oprah, they can muzzle anyone. (One of the 4 confirmed U.S. mad cows was later found in Texas, appropriately enough.)
There are a handful of dedicated activists such as Howard Lyman who have been sounding the alarm on this. They include the ecologist Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union and Dr. Michael Greger, a physician. Terry S. Singeltary Sr., whose mom died of a version of the human form of mad cow disease, has been a relentless, unpaid activist on this issue.
Despite their dedicated work, there is no indication that anything is going to change here in America. The U.S. government refuses to implement the feed ban and the animal testing necessary. It doesn't matter if the President is named Clinton, Bush or Obama because their bureaucrats in the USDA and FDA stay the course and keep the cover up going. Docile, eating what they are fed, trusting the rancher all the way to the slaughterhouse. Is that just the cows, or is it us too?
John Stauber founded the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Media & Democracy and its newsmagazine PR Watch in 1993 in Madison, Wisconsin. Prior to his retirement from CMD in 2009, Stauber co-authored six books for them including the 2003 New York Times bestseller Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq. He continues now as an independent investigative writer, public speaker and democracy advocate whose leadership on controversial public issues began in high school when he organized to end the U.S. war in Vietnam and for the first Earth Day. He has begun or worked with many non-profit public interest groups.
Sick cow is from dairy in Tulare
Federal inspectors hope to track path of mad cow disease
By ROBERT RODRIGUEZ - The Fresno Bee
FRESNO -- California's first case of mad cow disease has been traced to a Tulare County dairy, a spokesman for Tulare Rep. Devin Nunes said Wednesday.
Federal inspectors have identified the dairy and likely were interviewing the dairy operator Wednesday, said Larry Hawkins, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
He declined to identify the dairy. He said investigators will retrace ownership of the cow before it arrived at the dairy.
How long that takes has not been determined, Hawkins said.
"We are looking to find out everything we can about that animal," Hawkins said. "Our goal is to find out where did the disease come from and are there other animals at risk" of having the disease.
The San Joaquin Valley became ground zero for mad cow disease Tuesday when the USDA announced that it had confirmed the first U.S. case since 2006. There have been only four U.S. cases since 2003.
The office of Nunes, a Tulare Republican, was briefed late Monday on the origin of the carcass by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Andrew House, the congressman's spokesman in Washington. The name of the dairy farm where the 5-year-old cow came from was not shared, House said.
The disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, attacks the brain and is fatal to cows. Humans can get it from eating tainted meat -- but federal and state officials were quick to say the diseased cow they found was not destined for the food chain.
Also, officials dismissed concerns that the cow might have gotten the disease from tainted feed -- Hawkins said tissue samples showed the disease was "atypical," meaning it developed from a mutation of genes.
Still, researchers need to check to see if other cows from the same herd show signs of the genetic mutation.
The carcass that had the disease was discovered at a rendering plant transfer station in Hanford run by Baker Commodities. Dennis Luckey, executive vice president of Baker Commodities, said Tuesday that routine tests revealed the disease.
Global reaction mild
As federal officials continued their investigation Wednesday, the reaction among U.S. trading partners was relatively mild.
Although two South Korean retailers announced that they removed U.S. beef from their store shelves, the South Korean government has said only that it will increase inspections of U.S. beef. Other major U.S beef importers, including Canada, Japan and Mexico, have kept the trading doors open.
That pales in comparison to what happened in 2003, when the United States discovered its first case of mad cow disease in an animal that came from Canada.
From 2003 to 2004, U.S. beef exports plummeted from $3.9 billion to $809 million.
"Back then, it seemed like everyone just shut their doors," said Mike Smith, special projects manager for Harris Ranch Beef Co. in Selma, one of the Valley's leading beef producers. "But that didn't happen this time. We have not seen any pullback in terms of orders, foreign or domestic."
Harris Ranch exports about 16 percent of its production to countries including South Korea, Canada and Mexico.
Smith and others in the beef industry say this time around, foreign buyers and consumers have been reassured that the U.S. surveillance system for mad cow disease is working.
"And the finding of this animal in California is a reinforcement of that," said Jim Herlihy, vice president of communications for the Colorado-based U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Valley dairy operators said they did not feel any extra anxiety over the recent case, saying they are aware of federal advisories that the disease isn't passed from animal-to-animal contact or to humans in milk.
"You are always concerned about any health issue," said Steve Maddox, a Fresno County dairy operator. "But we know that our products are safe."
The most common way cows get mad cow is from contaminated feed. The federal government took a big step in 1997 toward eliminating that pathway when it banned the use of animal proteins in cattle feed. Before then, it was common for cow organs to be added to feed -- a practice that helped lead to the mad cow disease that devastated English herds in the '90s.
Random sampling of cow carcasses at rendering plants helps inspectors stay on top of the disease. What is not possible are tests on live cows. The current tests involve taking samples from the brain of a dead cow.
Los Angeles Times
Mad cow disease found in one Central Valley bovine
By Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times
FRESNO — The first confirmed case of mad cow disease in the U.S. since 2006 surfaced in California's Central Valley on
Tuesday, triggering concerns about food safety. But health officials stressed that the diseased animal never entered the
human food chain and that U.S. beef and dairy products are safe.
The diseased cow "was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply
or human health," John Clifford, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief veterinarian, said in a statement.
Mad cow disease was most famously imprinted on the minds of consumers by a massive outbreak in the United Kingdom that killed
more than 150 people and 180,000 cattle. The disease can be passed to humans who eat tainted meat. The World Health
Organization says research shows that milk does not carry the disease.
Previous scares were crippling to the cattle industry. Beef exports dropped by more than 70% after the first case in 2003.
"This is a big deal. People have a lot of fear over mad cow disease and for good reason," said Stevie Ipsen, director of
communications for the California Cattlemen's Assn. "But our country's meat is still the safest in the world. We're confident
people will carry on eating beef."
Cattle ranchers cited Tuesday's confirmation of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), as proof that a
sound screening system is in place.
"This clearly illustrates the firewall is working. This is only the fourth case in nine years and none of them were headed
for the food supply," said Mike Smith, a projects manager with Harris Ranch Beef in Coalinga.
But Michael Hanson, a senior scientist with Consumer Reports and a longtime critic of U.S. mad cow disease policy, said the
discovery could be alarming.
In 1997 the U.S. changed the rules for cattle food. Until then, rendered cows could become part of cattle feed. The strategy
was to get the disease out of the food chain and then the disease would eventually disappear.
"If it turns out this cow is less than 14 years old, it proves my biggest concern: Cattle feed is still not protected from
mad cow," he said.
"We still allow risky practices. You can't feed cows to cows directly. But you can feed cows to pigs and chickens and then
feed them to cows."
Clifford said the cow died of an atypical strain of the disease. Officials believe it is a rare spontaneous case and not
linked to contaminated food.
The diseased cow died while still on the farm. On any given day a dairy has three or four carcasses of cows that may have
died from old age. Rendering companies, commonly known as "fat and bone collection," pick them up for processing into
commercial products such as makeup, chicken feed and pet food.
This cow was headed to a rendering plant in Kerman, said Dennis Luckey, executive vice president of Baker Commodities. A
random sampling taken when the cow was at a transfer station in Hanford last Wednesday proved inconclusive and the sample was
forwarded to the government.
The USDA tests about 40,000 cows a year. Technicians who work for rendering plants cut the head off the cow and take a sample
from the brain stem that is then sent to scientists for testing.
Cattle infected with the disease have been found in the U.S. only three previous times — in a Canadian-born cow in 2003 in
Washington state, in a Texas cow found in 2005 and in one in Alabama in 2006.
Clifford said data show that the safeguards that the U.S. and other countries have put in place are successful. In 2011 there
were only 29 worldwide cases. The peak was 37,311 cases in 1992.
Mad cow reemergence may hamper California's beef, dairy industries
The discovery of mad cow disease in a California dairy cow may have repercussions for the state's beef and dairy industries. (Mitchell Schmidt / Associated Press / April 24, 2012)
By Tiffany Hsu
The reemergence of mad cow disease, discovered in a California dairy cow, could have major implications for the state’s meat industry, even though officials have said that the human food supply is unaffected.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy hasn’t been found in U.S. since 2006 and was discovered in only three instances before then. But the disease has dealt a crippling blow to the industry in the past, especially when foreign countries refused to import American beef when mad cow was first uncovered in 2003.
The U.S. Department of Agriculturetests about 40,000 cows a year in its effort to catch the disease.
In California, private and public ranching takes up about 38 million acres, according to the California Cattlemen’s Assn. There are about 620,000 beef cows on 11,800 California ranches. The state also hosts 1.84 million dairy cows, according to information compiled by the California Beef Council.
The sale of cattle and calves was a $1.82-billion industry in California 2008 and fifth among the state’s top 20 commodities. Beef cattle are raised in nearly every California county.
Nationally, California ranks behind Texas, Kansas and Nebraska in total cattle numbers.
Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, quickly issued a statement stressing that mad cow “is not transmitted through milk.” She also pointed out that “milk and beef remain safe to consume.”
But food-related scares, such as the recent uproar over pink slime and various fruit and vegetable recalls, can be a publicity nightmare.
Americans are exceedingly sensitive about what they eat, and the perception of risk often exceeds the real danger, experts have suggested.
Fox News Latino
US Mad Cow Case: Mexico, Trade Partners React
DES MOINES, Iowa – The first new case of mad cow disease found in a California cow drew a rapid response from the beleaguered American beef industry, and the leading beef importers, like Mexico, Canada and Japan, said that the mad cow case would have no effect on their imports. The strongest reaction among trade partners came from those who are already skeptical about the safety of U.S. beef.
The beleaguered American beef industry has been enduring one crisis after another for more than a year. First, a severe drought in the Southwest cut cattle herd numbers to their lowest level in more than 60 years. Then an intense controversy erupted over a common type of filler known as "pink slime," hurting ground beef sales. The industry was just regaining its footing when the word of the mad cow discovery came Tuesday.
"They say things happen in threes, so hopefully this is the last one," said Buck Wehrbein, who manages a feeding operation in Mead, Neb.
They say things happen in threes, so hopefully this is the last one
- Buck Wehrbein, manages a feeding operation
The infected dairy cow, only the fourth ever discovered in the United States, was found as part of an Agriculture Department program that tests about 40,000 cows a year for the fatal brain disease. The animal apparently acquired the infection from a random mutation, not from eating infected cattle feed.
It was the first new case of mad cow disease in the U.S. since 2006 and came just as beef exports were finally recovering from an outbreak in 2003. With billions of dollars at risk, the USDA and other government officials responded quickly, explaining that consumers were never at risk because none of the animal's meat was bound for the food supply.
"It looks like that system is working, and for those of us in the business, that's a relief," Wehrbein said.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is fatal to cows and can cause a fatal human brain disease in people who eat tainted beef. The World Health Organization has said that tests show that humans cannot be infected by drinking milk from infected animals.
The swift response also reflected a desire to avoid a repeat of the pink slime scare, which erupted when consumers learned some ground meat contained scraps of beef treated with ammonium hydroxide.
Some people and institutions responded by rejecting the product known as "lean, finely textured beef." And by the time the industry responded, demand had fallen dramatically and production plants had closed.
"In retrospect, they didn't take that seriously and I think they underestimated the impact the media could have on consumer behavior," said Heather Jones, an industry analyst with BB&T Capital Markets. "I think they wanted to be all over this to quell any concerns domestically, and also you don't want to lose any of your export markets."
After an outbreak of mad cow disease in 2003, beef exports plunged from $3.6 billion that year to $809 million in 2004. On Tuesday, meat industry groups, food companies and the American Veterinary Medical Association quickly issued statements and updated their websites, seeking to reassure the public that the nation's meat supply is safe.
"Consumers should be reminded that the BSE agent is not contained in beef muscle such as cuts like steaks, roasts and hamburger," Tyson Foods, the second-largest beef producer in the U.S., said in a statement.
The industry's challenges come as beef exports are soaring, hitting a record $5.4 billion last year. The trend is continuing this year, with export value up about 10 to 12 percent, said Joe Schuele, a spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, a trade group.
In Taiwan, the legislature postponed indefinitely a planned discussion on American beef. Under pressure from Washington, recently re-elected President Ma Ying-jeou has been seeking to break a logjam on the long-running dispute.
Ma, however, is caught between growing popular opposition to U.S. beef and a parallel desire not to endanger the resumption of stalled trade talks, which are seen as crucial to keeping up the island's competitive edge in global trade.
The Chinese government did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a consultant said the BSE discovery is likely to push the government toward establishing strict criteria on American beef. But that's only if China resumes importing the beef at all.
China imposed a ban on American beef after the 2003 outbreak. Talks on the issue resumed in 2010, with the latest round occurring in February 2011.
Demand for beef in China has increased from 5.6 million tons in 2005 to 6.5 million tons last year, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. In recent years, the Chinese have eaten more beef than the nation can produce, and 10,000 to 60,000 tons of beef have been imported primarily from Australia, Uruguay and Brazil.
In South Korea, the second- and third-largest grocery retailers pulled U.S. beef from their stores to calm worries among consumers. But one of them resumed sales within hours, citing a government announcement of increased inspections.
South Korea is the fourth-largest importer of American beef. It bought $563 million worth last year.
Live cattle futures markets plummeted Tuesday, even before the Agriculture Department's announcement of the mad cow discovery, but they recovered Wednesday as it became clearer that exports would not take a significant hit.
"The only two things that move the market are fear and greed, and fear moved it yesterday, but it's coming back," said cattle rancher Bill Donald, of Melville, Mont.
The quick response from the industry and the government helped, he said.
"The main thing with consumers is just to reassure them of the safety of our product and all the different firewalls we have in place," he said.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.