Saturday, January 17


USDA quietly declares emergency in Washington state, reports the Sacramento Bee. That's my favorite kind of emergency - the quiet kind. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has quietly declared an 'extraordinary emergency' because of the discovery of a Holstein infected with mad cow disease in Washington state. The declaration was published Monday in the Federal Register, a daily publication of all rules, regulations and notices issued by the federal government. Other than the Federal Register notice, the department made no public announcement an emergency had been declared.

Boy, an "extraordinary emergency" sounds like a big deal, huh? But no, quite the contrary: "It's not a big deal," Jim Rogers, a spokesman for the USDA, said Thursday. It's simply that "the department has determined that the state may be unable to adequately take the measures necessary to quarantine and dispose of animals that may be infected with or exposed to BSE." Oh. Well, that's encouraging.

Friday, January 16


While we sit around arguing in the U.S. about whether one cow with BSE represents a serious health threat, an outbreak of another zoonotic disease, bird flu, is sweeping several Asian Pacific countries. Japan has reported one outbreak, while the WHO links a Vietnam outbreak to the deaths of 10 people, noting that this same flu has also sickened and killed thousands of chickens in South Korea and Japan. How serious is it? As of today, Vietnam has banned the sale of poultry in its largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City. Meanwhile, as though stuck in another era, WHO investigators now are really really sure that SARS comes from animals used for food - stop the presses! - and one epidemiologist spells it out for the slow-of-grasping: "By and large, most of the diseases that have appeared in the past 10 years have, in the end, turned out to be from an animal source." Coincidentally, on the same day, a study found that another modern scientific terror, the Ebola virus, probably comes from the same source as AIDS, namely "Bush Meat" - primates killed for food.

Thursday, January 15


"Federal agriculture officials did not test any commercial cattle for mad cow disease through the first seven months of 2003 in Washington state -- where the first U.S. case of the disease was detected last month -- according to records obtained by United Press International. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's records of mad cow screenings, conducted on 35,000 animals between 2001 to 2003, also reveal no animals were tested for the past two years at Vern's Moses Lake Meats, the Washington slaughterhouse where the mad cow case was first detected.

Another curiously hard-hitting UPI attack on the USDA, which has lots more damning data but ends with a still-more-disturbing passage: "The USDA withheld the results for the tests conducted in 2003 in the documents it provided to UPI, but it said all were negative for mad cow. On Monday, the agency's Freedom of Information Office said it would provide the test results, probably by Tuesday. As of late Wednesday, UPI still had not been given the results." Ruh-roh...

Wednesday, January 14


A scathing piece in the Guardian quoted USDA inspectors and other insiders as describing "a culture of indifference towards the threat of BSE" in America. "In the slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, vets and food safety inspectors say: policies favour the beef industry at the expense of consumer safety; testing for BSE is rare and haphazard, and carried out by people with minimal training in the disorder; discussion of the disease by regulators was discouraged; government agencies fail to enforce their own safety standards. There's lots more. Plus this perspective from a different kind of insider: "The discovery of an infected Holstein cow in Washington state points inexorably to the possibility that there are undetected cases in the U.S. herd." This is not just some average Joe opining, but Joshua Cohen, a senior researcher at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, whose analysis of mad cow disease government officials have repeatedly cited. He says it "seems likely that there is at least one other animal with clinical BSE in the U.S. This animal is probably not the only one -- you wouldn't want to bet on it being the only one." Exactly. And yet every person who bites into a burger is taking just that bet.

Tuesday, January 13


"At least 110 cows considered at risk for mad cow disease have been slaughtered and most likely entered the food chain for human consumption," federal agriculture officials said. But don't worry, because the meat "probably" doesn't have the fatal BSE in it, according to a third-tier USDA spokesperson. "There is probably no risk from these cows -- but they may be in the food supply," says Madelaine Fletcher. So you probably won't die from eating beef.
UPDATE 1/14: "Low risk" always sounds reassuring until it's you that has to deal with it: Read about a family that ate beef from the batch recalled for BSE, and how they're doing now: "I know the odds that any of us will get sick are slim, but my family's risk is greater than anyone else's in the U.S., because we actually ate it."

Monday, January 12


Add Molly Ivins to the list of those who advocate "just saying no" over the BSE screwup: "If you must eat while Republicans control both the White House and Congress," she advises, "you may want to consider becoming a vegetarian." It's also nice that she gives a shout-out to one of Meat Facts' favorite topics, saying that "Feces is feces whether it's fibrous or not" and topping that "gross" reference with the comment that "'gross' is pretty close to scientifically accurate when it comes to the Bush performance on protecting the meat supply."
UPDATE 1/16: More Just-Say-No's: Stanley Bing swears off beef, even if flippantly: "I guess we have to take a long look at the one party that makes the most sense: cows. They're the ones who got it first. They're giving it to us. They're mad as hell, and I'm not going to eat them anymore." and on a more thoughtful level, a Washington state newspaper notes the current crisis "makes some careful, some vegan:" "It's one of the main reasons I decided to go vegan," said Julie Waller, 37, who was shopping at the Safeway in Tumwater. "I would be concerned if I was still eating meat." Another shopper, Janice Simon, 40, said mad cow disease is a reason to be extra careful. "I won't let my son eat beef because of it," she said.


Last Wednesday, Michael Greger's thorough and alarming analysis of the CJD risk among Americans from possible BSE in the food supply was published on the Web (and linked here, of course), calling for increased CDC attention to the issue. Coincidentally (?) the next day, the CDC "urged doctors to be on the lookout for suspect cases of mad cow disease in humans." What, are the CDC jumping on the "alarmist" bandwagon too? If so, it's gonna be crowded, what with people such as Wisconsin's state veterinarian saying that he "believes more cases will be found in cattle in America," as well as Northeastern University professor of chemistry Ira Krull, who says "there are many more undocumented cases just waiting to be discovered," adding: "The American public should be concerned. At this moment, there is contaminated beef sitting in grocery stores and personal freezers across the country," said Krull. Gosh, isn't it funny how actual scientists seem to have a slightly different view of this than the National Cattlemen's Beef Alumni Association USDA?
UPDATE 1/13: Here's an alarming story, "Mad cow danger may even be bigger," which is basically a rewrite of Greger's piece from last week - but if it makes you feel better to hear it coming from a credentialed journalist, well, here you go.
UPDATE 1/18: New research indicates human form of mad cow more complex than first thought, declares, detailing the crusade of Dr. Laura Manuelidis, head of neuropathology at Yale University, to get the CDC to look at the possibility that BSE causes "classical" as well as "new variant" CJD.