Friday, January 23


While Wyoming ranchers have found even more to worry about as Brucellosis (which can sicken humans as well as cows) spreads in their state, the national Mad Cow crisis is bringing out even more unsettling facts about the USDA's mismanagement of the cattle industry - and its effects on Americans' safety.

A Sacramento Bee columnist decries the situation in California, where county health officials are forbidden from telling the public which stores sold meat from Washington's Mad Cow. Alameda County Public Health Officer Anthony Iton says "I was shocked. Here was critical public health information that I could get only if I signed a blood-oath not to give it to the public. That's what I do for a living. It doesn't make any sense." Columnist Marjie Lundstrom sums it up: "What it means is that you and I are clueless, cut out of the knowledge loop and left on our own to sort it out. Why? Because the federal government wants this kept secret. Because the USDA seems to think it's more important to coddle the meat industry and strong-arm disclosure-minded states than to give consumers basic health information. A Hartford Advocate columnist goes further: "If you're still eating American beef at this point, you're more optimistic than most of the rest of us. No one else on the planet is eating American beef. Surely you don't feel consoled by reassurances from Ann "Steak for Christmas!" Veneman, Bush's agriculture secretary. Come on. This is the same crew who said Saddam had "yellow cake," then said he had anthrax, then smallpox, then ... ad nauseum. ... You don't think other cows that have since entered the food chain had mad cow prions coursing through their cells? Do you still believe in the tooth fairy too?"

This would probably all seem like so much grandstanding if it weren't for a few troubling facts: One is a scientist opining that, due to the mysteries of how BSE works, "A negative test won't always mean a negative cow." Another is the fact that even if "99.9% of US feed mills are complying with FDA regulations," feed contaminated with bovine proteins is "inexplicably" entering the country from Canada, in violation of trade law. Shocking? Well, there's also this: Three more CJD cases have just been found in the same area of New Jersey where one citizen has been agitating for years for the CDC to investigate a possible cluster, and finally the CDC announced that they will investigate the cluster.

UPDATE 1/24: Another CJD cluster on the other coast has survivors there wondering about a BSE link and another U.S. state has problems with bovine-protein-contaminated feed. Something's spreading, anyway...
UPDATE 1/29: Another confirmed CJD case for the Cherry Hill cluster centering around the Garden State Racetrack: Former Camden city councilman Alfred Palumbo died Dec. 27, 1997, of what his doctors diagnosed as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, his daughter-in-law Gina Palumbo said Tuesday after reading an earlier report about the cluster. OK, now will you get your ass in gear, CDC?

Thursday, January 22


Anyone who wonders what hunting's all about should bear in mind the story of Roy Hebert, who became bored while hunting squirrels with a friend. This time, rather than shooting each other, they decided to take aim at large quadrupeds. Hebert shot a horse and a goat, killing the latter animal. What a sportsman!


Why does this sound so familiar? A country whose economy largely involves exports of animal products denies, denies, denies that a disease hitting those very animals exists in that country - even as it becomes obvious infected animals are being sold to the public and sickening citizens, and many animals are killed to "control" the outbreak. "Fears over Asia's bird flu outbreak spiraled Wednesday as worst-hit Vietnam admitted that nearly 900,000 chickens possibly exposed to the deadly virus had been sold to the public. The disease may have spread to nearby Thailand -- a major chicken exporter that has repeatedly insisted it is free of bird flu -- where three people were being tested for the avian influenza. A mass slaughter of fowl was ordered by the government."
UPDATE 1/23: Thailand now admits the Bird Flu is in the country as people start dying from it.

Wednesday, January 21


On the heels of his company's embarrassing retraction of its "all the fat you want" credo, Dr. Atkins is further dissed by New York's Mayor Bloomberg, who publicly (though apparently unintentionally so) scoffs at the reports of the diet guru's cause of death: "Atkins is dead. I don't believe that bull---- that he dropped dead slipping on a sidewalk. Yeah, right." Warming to his subject, Bloomberg also notes that Atkins was not exactly fit & trim: "I actually went to his house out in Southampton for a Pataki fund-raiser two years ago. The guy was fat - big guy - but heavy." Ouch. Well, at least the diet is fun and tasty, right? D'oh! About that party Bloomberg attended... "The food was inedible. I took one appetizer and I had to spit it into my napkin. It was just terrible."

Meanwhile, the BBC has confirmed earlier studies which found that the way the diet works is by restricting calories, rather than the magical power of saturated fat. The New York Times adds that "there are no long-term studies to show that people on low-carb diets keep weight off longer than those on low-fat diets," and ABC gently suggests that Low-Carb Fast Foods May Not Be the Healthiest Choice. Really?

UPDATE 1/22: While the Atkins people try to spin the new 20%-saturated-fat restriction as "the same thing we've been saying all along," their own Atkins-branded products contradict them. As PCRM points out, smoking guns include the Crab & Cheddar Souffl?, which derives 31% of its calories from saturated fat (and 78% of its calories from fat), and the Four Cheese Crustless Quiche derives a whopping 45% of its calories from saturated fat. Just one serving has more saturated fat than most people should get in an entire day, according to the National Institutes of Health. Looks like the Atkins Center better either pull these products, or explain how this fits within their new recommendations. Somehow I'd guess the odds of that are about as good as a chubby diet doctor dying by slipping on the ice.
UPDATE 1/26: Atkins diet precipitating attacks of Gout The Guardian article explains that a high-protein diet produces lactic acid. "It then joins a queue of acids waiting to be expelled by the kidneys and uric acid levels remain high. Crystallisation follows.That is what happened to 40-year-old Richard Jaques. 'I'm an ex-rugby player and carry a bit of weight,' he said. 'I went on the Atkins last year.' The side-effects of the diet triggered an attack. Jaques is hit by three or four bouts of gout a year, but the Atkins-led episode was different. 'Normally it comes on quickly, but when I was following the Atkins it built up slowly over three weeks. By the end I was in a lot of pain.'"

Tuesday, January 20


The Sacramento Bee rewrites the "vegetarians aren't gloating, or at least they better not be" story that was widely done a couple weeks ago, but includes this proclamation: "Mad cow disease and salmon scares may make this the year of the veggie." It's an interesting prediction, and we'll watch how it plays out, but it's hard to put much stock in an article that replays such tired fallacies as equating the hepatitis-scallions link with BSE. This quote, for example, passes without comment... "'The actual risk of mad cow disease is far less than getting salmonella or (another illness) off a potato salad that's sat out in the sun too long,' says Louis Grivetti, a nutrition professor at the University of California, Davis." Well, gosh, since the preceding paragraphs pertained to VEGANS, it's worth pointing out that the odds of getting any foodborne disease from a VEGAN potato salad are absolutely miniscule, unless it's been cross-contaminated with what? ANIMAL PRODUCTS! Sheesh.

Monday, January 19


Two very different sources are filling in the picture of a Mad Cow testing process that's about as airtight as a busted bagpipe. The Wall Street Journal has called into question the validity of the USDA's tests because the agency sometimes "permitted slaughterhouses to select which animals should be tested." The obvious problem is that "such a role by companies could have tainted the survey, because the companies' officials had an incentive to send only the brains of cattle that appeared to be healthy."

Meanwhile, on the other end of the country and the Journalistic Authority scale, a letter to the Columbia Basin Herald from a worker at the plant where the mad cow was slaughtered has raised troubling questions. "The USDA had us taking brain stem samples from downers and back door cripples only. Since we only had a few walkers on this trailer full of downers, we just killed her along with them. We took a brain sample from her head because the USDA gives up $10 per sample." So reports Dave Louthan of Moses Lake, making the claim that contrary to published reports, this cow was not even a downer when it was slaughtered; its BSE test happened purely by chance. He adds, "We had only been taking brain samples for about a month when we found this one. When the USDA said no more downers would be slaughtered, they essentially said no more BSE testing would be done."

UPDATE 1/23: Cow's 'downer' status comes into question - the letter-writing guy has been joined by two other people who were at Vern's Moses Lake Meats when the cow was killed, who saud the cow was a "walker," not a downer. Interestingly, one of the guys is the plant manager. He said, "She did walk off the trailer at our place," he said Tuesday. According to the letter-writing guy, when it came time to unload the cow, the animal became scared as it approached the loading ramp. To prevent the cow from trampling other cows that were laying down in the trailer, he killed it, he said. "If I hadn't shot it, it would have been walked to a holding pen and held" for slaughter at a later time, he said.
UPDATE 1/24: The Seattle Times has picked up the "walker cow" story, and has fleshed it out with more exquisite detail (such as more "eyewitness testimony" and quotes from letter writer Dave Louthan - "I did it because I liked to kill cows. I don't care if I'm hauling them, feeding them or killing them. As long as I'm around livestock, I'm happy. I'm a cowboy.") and more confirmation from the plant manager as well as the Government Accountability Project. It will be interesting to see where this goes...


Lisa: They can't seriously expect us to swallow that tripe.
Skinner: Now as a special treat courtesy of our friends at the Meat Council, please help yourself to this tripe!


In a bombshell development for the pro-meat protein pushers, "the promoters of the Atkins diet now say that people on their plan should limit the amount of red meat and saturated fat they eat." This comes directly from the director of research and education for Atkins Nutritionals, Colette Heimowitz, seemingly reversing years of advice to dieters "to satisfy their hunger with liberal amounts of steak, eggs and other saturated fats." It makes one wonder what the results of the latest Atkins-sponsored research might hold...

Oddly, this comes courtesy of The New York Times, whose Magazine in 2002 kicked off the latest fad with an article arguing that saturated fat had magical slimming properties. I say "oddly" because the writing of the piece definitely cops a certain attitude about the charlatanesque qualities of this company:

    Paul D. Wolff, chief executive of Atkins Nutritionals, said the company is trying to get its message out clearly. 'The way the book was promoted was, here's the program that is counterintuitive," he said. "'You can eat a lot of bacon and steak.' It was the marketing of the book. The media saw it as a sexy story."
    "Perhaps what was communicated in the past was unclear," he said. "We would agree with that."
    So why not tell people straight out that you can't eat all the steak and eggs you want, Mr. Wolff was asked.
    "Interesting question," he said as he hung up to catch a plane.

UPDATE 1/19: The ink was barely dry on this entry before Atkins people were denying the substance of this story. CBS New York has a representative "second-day" story trying to provide some balance. But of course that includes the views of those who had gone on the diet on false premises and now feel betrayed. "Elizabeth Pakkala, a former Atkins dieter, says she thought she could eat all the meat she wanted. But she was only on the high protein plan for eight days and couldn't handle the headaches and mood swings. 'If they're reconsidering what they said in the beginning, then you know, I'm happy about that for them,' Pakkala said."


Great! But keep in mind that eating chicken "may expose you to higher levels of arsenic than you think, government researchers say. Arsenic levels in young chickens, or 'broilers,' may be three to four times greater than in other poultry and meat, they report in the January issue of Environmental Health Perspectives." Gosh... why do you suppose chickens would have so much arsenic in 'em? Oh, it's put into their feed, of course.


People talk and talk about what MLK brought to the national dialogue, and sometimes treat him as the great black martyr, as though his revolutionary effect was only about race. But just as important was his revolution in the process of rebelling: His refinement of Ghandi's techniques of non-violent civil disobedience. When we think of King as a supreme advocate of willful non-violence, it makes sense to hear that his widow, Coretta King, is a vegetarian - according to this profile, she "consumes a vegetarian diet that's heavy on raw food." That's living the dream.