Saturday, January 3


The meat industry and its lackeys are doing a terrific job at decrying the "hysteria" about Mad Cow that the media are supposedly fomenting, even though a quick trip to Google News shows that most media coverage of the "effects" of the "scare" has been to show how little "scare" there is. Still, there are a couple wild-eyed granola-crunching media types coming down hard on the USDA: The Wall Street Journal, for example, details exactly why the new measures are still not enough to protect consumers, including the facts that 1) Cows still eat the ground-up remains of other animals, 2) Bovine blood products are fed to calves, and 3) Few animals are tested for BSE. (All points were made more fully and conclusively by Michael Greger)."So what can consumers do?" The WSJ asks, responding, "Of course, the ultimate protection is to stop eating beef."

And the (Madison) Capital Times slams Veneman's USDA with refreshing candor: "Ann Veneman's subservience to the agribusiness interests she once served as a lobbyist is no longer merely troublesome. It's dangerous." As to the "low-risk"/"no-risk" reassurances, "Veneman has no idea whether she is right." The editorial concludes that "By failing to acknowledge genuine concerns regarding BSE, and by failing even now to respond to those concerns, Veneman has failed U.S. farmers and consumers. She should be ashamed, and the rest of us should be looking for better sources of information about the safety of our food supply."

So, yeah, I'm one of those people looking for better sources of information than mealy-mouthed platitudes from someone everyone in America now knows is acting out of a clear conflict of interest. I want to see documents. Here's what I'd like to see - and what I think every person in America deserves to have access to immediately:

  • Those documents of Mad Cow testing for 2002 and 2003 that to the best of my knowledge have still not been released to UPI or the public. If the bedrock of the "no big deal" argument is that this is just one cow, let's see that backed up, hmmm?
  • The exact source of the claim that there are about 200,000 downer cattle per year in the U.S. - since the National Market Cow and Bull Audit supposedly puts the number at 1.8 million a year... kind of a big difference.
  • All pieces of the paper trail linking the cow that was sold to American consumers as meat to a Canadian cow that's conveniently six years old. Suffice to say this story still seems to have a lot of odd discrepancies... brucellosis, anyone?
  • The paperwork that backs up widely-parroted claims that the rate of compliance with the 1997 feed ban is now at "99.9 percent" - given that in 2000 it was less than 75%, and in 2002, the GAO said the FDA "has been using inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable data to track and oversee feed ban compliance." Where does this number (it's like 100%, see, only if there's another screw-up they can say, "well, that came from that .1% that was in non-compliance") come from? Actual inspections? Self-assessment? Wild stab in the dark? Or most likely, a P.R. meeting? Let's see the data!

    There are other documents, but if we could just see all of these immediately, I'd feel the people in charge of this are at least playing by some of the rules.

    UPDATE 1/6: OK, even though no documents have been released to the public, the US and Canada both agree that the cow's DNA matches, so I'll check that one - the one that was already taken as fact anyway - off the list. One down, three to go...

  • Friday, January 2


    See, here's what I don't understand. In an article entitled, "Ban on sale of 'downer' cattle may bring own hazard," a frequently-cited problem is raised: "This (detection) never would have happened if the farmer in question would have shut up, shot the animal and buried it," said John McBride, director of information for the national network of livestock auction houses. So... we should avoid a system of greater scrutiny because that will make ranchers more duplicitous? More laws will just drive them to break the law more often? Um, I guess no one else has said this, but, gee, shouldn't such wanton, venal, anti-social destruction of evidence be A FELONY? Why do we let animal industries get away with utter garbage like this? No really, I want to know.

    Thursday, January 1


    Ed Rendell is still struggling to wear the larger-size britches he was issued as Governor of Pennsylvania, and is finding it's not quite as simple as being mayor. BUT at least he had the balls to veto the "let factory farms do whatever they want" bill that the PA legislature had snuck through...John Hanger, president of PennFuture, summed it up: "People understand the stench from this legislation." In another article, Hanger offers that "Rendell proved that he is a true statesman" with this action. While "proved" is a little strong, it's certainly a welcome indicator.

    Wednesday, December 31


    In preparation for more Mad Cow news in 2004, here are some quick hits on items I had lying around that are about to go stale:

  • Last performing circus bear in United Kingdom finds sanctuary in Canada: "The [animal] circus has been going so rapidly out of fashion in the U.K., people can't remember the last time they saw a bear at the circus," said Victor Watkins, director of wildlife in London for the World Society for the Protection of Animals. "It's one bear, but it really makes a lot of people aware of the issue. Hopefully, we'll get more circuses around the world to realize bears don't belong there."
  • Tufts University says it's impossible to follow the Atkins diet healthfully: So, as to whether it's possible to follow the Atkins diet healthfully or tweak it to make it safe and healthful, the answers are no and no.
  • Meat recalled for non-BSE, non-E.Coli reasons: Tyson frozen grilled chicken patties with pieces of metal; meat dumplings with pieces of glass; Taco Bell ground beef with "a small, hard object" in the meat; and 26,600 pounds ground beef mislabeled as "irradiated" but isn't.
  • Researchers say wolves could help curb Chronic Wasting Disease; unfortunately, we're too busy killing them all off to notice.
  • Magnesium fights diabetes: "New research suggests that nuts, grains and leafy green vegetables, foods high in magnesium, may keep diabetes at bay."
  • Dairy monsters: The UK's Guardian looks at the growing awareness that milk isn't the health food we were told it was.
  • And I try to avoid giving additional attention to shameless bids for attention, but this latest PETA stunt is beyond the pale and needs to be condemned in the most absolute terms. Stay the hell away from kids, you idiots!
    Hopefully they'll get a clue in 2004... along with meat-eaters... hopefully.

  • Tuesday, December 30


    Even though our cattle-slaughter practices are completely safe (remember, there's no risk), the USDA today suddenly announced a ban on meat from 'downer' cows - something vegetarian groups have been fighting for in court for years, and which the USDA and the Bush administration have steadfastly opposed. This is part of a package of sweeping anti-BSE reforms the agency, by a strange coincidence, had been just about to get around to when this whole thing blew up ("Veneman said the announced changes have been planned for a while." Uh-huh.) It's yet another coincidence that keeping downers out of the food supply means they don't have to test them - er, unless they want Japan to start importing beef again...

    Two quick items you may have missed: 1) The Village Voice laid it out on the table today with "The simple fact is the meat inspection system isn't any good and anybody who even attempts to stand up to the Big Boy ranchers does so at his or her peril," introducing us to Bill Lehman, a former inspector, who described his duties thusly: "I merely walk to the back of the truck. That's all I'm allowed to do. Whether there's boxed meat or carcasses in the truck, I can't touch the boxes. I can't open the boxes. I can't use a flashlight. I can't walk into the truck. I can only look at what is visible in the back of the trailer." Even so, he himself rejected up to 2.3 million pounds annually for reasons such as "pus-filled abscesses, sticky layers of bacteria leaving a stench, obvious fecal contamination, stains, metal shavings, blood, bruises, hair, hide, chemical residues, salmonella, added substances, and advanced disease symptoms." Gee, hope he didn't miss any in the corner of the truck.

    And 2) here's some news: Animal testing is bogus! That is, the results found in one species can't be extrapolated to another. This comes from a Seattle Times article in which Jim Cullor, director of the University of California, Davis, veterinary-research center, says there's "almost no chance of getting sick." The "almost" qualifier, the Times notes, "reflects evidence the infectious agent is found in blood. Recent studies have also found it in mouse muscle, though Cullor says that's not a cause for concern. "With all due respect, a mouse is not a cow. A mouse is not a human." Oh! Well, now we know.

    Monday, December 29


    No Risk From Mad Cow Meat, U.S. Says Whew! That was a close one, because here I had thought there might be a risk, what with all the meat from that slaughtered mad cow getting eaten by consumers and all.

    Agriculture Department officials maintain, meanwhile, there is no health risk to consumers. Great. No health risk. "essentially zero." Oh, OK. Essentially.

    They seem to be using "no risk" in place of "low risk," since that term is now busted from its overuse last year. Remember when there was such a "low risk" of Mad Cow in the US. that the USDA could keep touting its achievement in maintaining that "firewall?"

    Study Shows Mad Cow Prevention Is Working in the U.S A 2002 Harvard study "showed that early protection systems put into place by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been largely responsible for keeping BSE out of the U.S." - except that BSE was already in the U.S. at this time, wasn't it? - "and would prevent it from spreading if it ever did enter the country." Right. I mean, sure, it might get to a couple hundred groceries and hundreds of consumers across eight states, but not to Guam. Never Guam.

    The NYT simplifies the risk complex into two basic questions:

    1. Did my family eat any of that cow, and, if so, will it hurt them?

    2. Never mind that one cow — how many others are out there?

    A short, somewhat flippant answer provided to #2: "finding two positives in roughly 40,000 recent tests would suggest that there could be about 1,750 positive animals in the 35 million slaughtered each year," suggests Dr. Donald Berry, chairman of the biostatistics department at the University of Texas's cancer research center.

    As to whether anybody ate them, Gary Weber, that he says he thought that, like most ground beef, the batch would have been frozen for transit. OK - is this a suggestion something was awry? 'Frozen' as in frozen or 'frozen ' as in 'stopped?' '"I'd hazard a guess that some of it has been consumed." Nonetheless, even if the meat was eaten, the risk to humans seems low.'

    Oh, now it seems low, does it? So, another level of qualification - it may not even be low! But at least it seems low. This is a long way from "no health risk to consumers," isn't it?

    And in another interesting note...

    'On the larger question - how many other cows have the disease - Dr. DeHaven said the department believed that "the worst-case scenario is the disease exists in the United States at a very low prevalence."'

    Oh, that's the worst it could possibly get, huh? Gosh, how much you want to bet it gets exactly that bad?

    Sunday, December 28


    As could be predicted, the USDA's strategy for containing the Mad Cow bombshell is to point fingers somewhere else - not in any meaningful sense, of course (i.e. with peer-reviewed evidence), only as a means of temporary distraction. Temporary, that is, and specifically timed for when the US stock exchanges open on Monday morning. Whether or not the cow turns out to actually be from Canada (and isn't it funny that just 36 hours ago it was likely to take "weeks" to definitively track down where the cow came from?), if that "good news" is the story of record on Monday morning, the chance of a beef market crash is limited. Very savvy.

    Meanwhile, of course, the question of the cow's birthplace is utterly irrelevant to the danger posed to Americans. 'Mad Cow in the US' doesn't just mean a sick cow happened to wander across our national border. In this case, it means a cow was raised for meat here in the US, was slaughtered here, was sold as meat to consumers in several US states, and was almost certainly unknowingly eaten by US consumers. No birthplace-switcheroo is going to change that. If only that continues to happen, US beef is still in a heap of trouble.

    For one thing, this development has got some families of CJD victims openly questioning whether the human form of the disease has already hit the United States, noting that the government has been "lax in its testing possible links and enforcing safety standards." And the lie that there's "no evidence" the disease can be found outside of brain and spinal tissue is being publicly debunked: "Cattle tissues known to carry the infectious agents behind mad cow disease are making it into the nation's meat supply despite industry and government claims to the contrary," notes the Rocky Mountain News.

    Additionally, the New York Times is slowwwwly starting to look into how thoroughly our beef-money-saturated public legislature has fallen down on the job. In a Sunday spread, the Times notes - without quite connecting the dots - that Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Stanley Prusiner (who won for discovering the prions behind BSE and CJD) has long said Mad Cow was already here and we should be vigourously testing for it. So did politicians listen to the world's greatest expert on the disease (who also opines in the Times article that the USDA still "believes its own propaganda," and that using cow blood as a milk replacer is "a really stupid idea") in determining industry safeguards? No, what would he know? They listened to folks like US Rep. Charles W. Stenholm (D-Texas), a rancher himself, who claimed that the government's screening program was tight enough to prevent any problems, and baldly stated that a downer cow in a photo "will never find its way into the food chain. Period."

    This is the way it's been - actual scientific experts such as Dr. Michael Greger, who lays out all the facts and documentation of how sloppy, unreliable and dangerous this system is, were largely ignored because after all, their judgement was clouded by their ties to the organic food movement and their veganism. But someone who stands to make money off of continued bad practices, who stands there and lies outright to the American public in order to keep profiting from animal slaughter, that's an "objective" source. This happens across the board, and if it changes even slightly because of this news, that will at least be one silver lining - for America, that is, not for US Beef, which I must again point out is a separate entity.