Friday, February 20


Well, I've finished reading Tom Ellestad's affidavit (PDF), and there can be no doubt in anyone's mind who's gone through all of that evidence that, not only was the Mad Cow not a downer, but the USDA knew so from day one. In fact, Ellestad said so in print, if we'd been paying attention:

    Federal officials have described the cow in question as a "downer" animal, meaning that it was unable to walk, which raises questions about whether it should have been slaughtered and put into the food supply. But Ellestad remembers seeing the animal. "It was not a downer cow," he said, trying to hold back his anger. "I saw it walking." Ellestad said that his slaughterhouse has a policy of refusing to slaughter cows that look too sick or injured. "There are some animals that we will not accept," he said. "This cow looked relatively healthy. I saw her up and walking." (Washington Post, Dec. 24, 2003)
Why the USDA decided to go ahead with this claim in the face of directly contradictory evidence both in a paper trail and eyewitness testimony is still a mystery to me. The Oregonian is also mystified, but not about the important conclusion: "We won't speculate as to the reasons for not sharing the information, but it hardly matters. If the department simply failed to understand the importance of giving the public correct, useful information, that's bad enough. If the department decided willfully to keep the information to itself, then those responsible -- including the secretary of agriculture -- should lose their jobs." Damn straight. In another piece on Ellestad, the GAP's Felicia Nestor said that they've been "analyzing USDA regulatory and enforcement activities, and found that the department focuses enforcement activities at the smallest plants, exempting larger facilities from testing. 'It's very understandable why they would want to do that,' she said. 'If you can marginalize the area of a food-safety incident, you can retain control and try to maintain confidence in the meat supply.' Nestor said that the GAP found this has been the way USDA tests for e. coli, and that they would analyze the data to see if this mirrors its BSE surveillance system as well." Well, in Ellestad's case there's certainly one mirror.

Other Mad Cow developments:
  • The Seattle Times reports that "15 companies in Washington state have been cited for failing to comply with a rule the government considers the best defense against mad cow disease, according to FDA inspection records." Although the article does a poor job of detailing how many of these violations are recent (they're all post-1997, and a few examples are given from 2002), Larry Bohlen, a spokesman with Friends of the Earth environmental advocacy group, states what should be, but apparently isn't, obvious to everybody: "It's significant because failure to follow mad cow prevention rules in the past could result in the disease occurring today." Well, yeah.
  • A fearmongering TV station tries to nail down the other end of the equation: Horrifying Illness Killing At Higher Rate In Washington! Omigod! That's the smoking gun! Except... after a couple heart-rending anecdotes, here's the evidence: "[CJD] only happens to about one in a million people. But our investigation shows CJD is killing people at a much higher rate in Washington State: 35 deaths between 1997-2003. That's in a state with less than 6 million people." Riiiiight. So, 1 per million per year is six, times six years is... 36 deaths. Huh? Where's the beef?
  • In more serious scientific news, the Journal of Applied Microbiology has proof that "current commercial methods of captive bolt stunning may induce widespread and significant mobilization of central nervous system tissue within beef carcasses. This may lead to the widespread dissemination of such ["high-risk"] materials within meat destined for human consumption." So can we lay to rest that "no brain, no spine, no risk" equation now?
  • And finally, "three state Senate committees have asked [California] Department of Health officials to explain why they signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that prevents public access to details of beef recalls. Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the Nobel Prize winner who explained what causes mad cow, is scheduled to speak at the 9:30 a.m. Tuesday hearing at the Capitol." Get this, though: No USDA representative will attend the hearing because it conflicts with another mad cow hearing in Washington, D.C., department officials said." Boy, Tuesday's gonna be a big day, huh?

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