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?

  • Thursday, February 19


    Ken Perrotte, an "outdoors" columnist, spins a new study showing twice as many youngsters as adults disapproving of hunting: In the survey, "33 percent of youth disapproved of hunting compared to 17 percent of adults" - but that's because kids naturally grow to like hunting as they reach adulthood, not because the adults of the future will disapprove of hunting. Right. Whatever. The fun part is the call for more inculcation of our nation's youth into the joys of hunting, so they'll be sure to preserve this wonderful tradition.

    That's what 16-year-old Jon William Romano was apparently doing when he strolled into Columbia High School earlier this month with a new shotgun and 20 rounds of ammunition. He shot at and missed two students, then shot a special-ed teacher in the leg while being tackled by an assistant principal. Gosh, where'd he get a new shotgun? "Over the weekend, Romano and his mother drove to the Pistol Parlor gun shop in East Greenbush where she bought him a Winchester Model 1300 pump-action shotgun. Barde allegedly filled out a federal gun-purchase application indicating that the weapon was for her son, who was too young to buy it but who intended to take up hunting." If only he had waited to take a hunting course before he started shooting... he could've been sure to hit and kill those first two students! Not surprisingly, the Fund for Animals is calling this a "Wake-Up Call" for New York to raise the minimum hunting age to 18.
    UPDATE 2/25: In related news, Mr. NRA Family Values, Ted Nugent, is a deadbeat dad. How will this son ever grow up macho and morally correct if Ted's never even met the boy, let alone taken him hunting? Tsk, tsk.

    Wednesday, February 18


    Hey, that "more evidence" isn't my phrasing - it's the headline for this Reuters story on a large, long-term study in the British Journal of Cancer: "After following more than 10,000 people for 17 years, investigators found that vegetarians were 15 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer than meat-eaters. This study adds to the 'increasing scientific evidence' that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fiber and low in meat--especially red and processed meat--can prevent colorectal cancer, said study author Dr. Miguel Sanjoaquin of the University of Oxford." The article goes on with some specifics - "The fat in red meat increases the excretion of substances called bile acids, he explained, which in turn produce other substances that encourage tumor growth. Furthermore, meat contains natural compounds and substances formed during processing and high-temperature cooking that can disrupt the normal balance of cell growth in the colon, potentially triggering the cancer, Sanjoaquin noted."
    UPDATE 2/19: Fruit & vegetables also build strong bones, sez the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
    UPDATE 2/20: A new multi-country study shows animal products increase the risk of prostate cancer, while veggies, especially onions and garlic, fight it. The study also points to the infamous insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) - which Monsanto's milk additive rBGH increases - as another contributor to prostate cancer. (From the abstract: "The strongest risk factor for prostate cancer mortality was animal products, with the nonfat portion of milk and alcohol being somewhat weaker; the strongest risk reduction factors were onions, other protective vegetable products (excluding alcohol, oils, and sweeteners), and solar UV-B radiation."

    Tuesday, February 17


    The BSE-infected brains are hitting the fan now as the news hits our nation's capital that witnesses agree the Mad Cow was a walker. "The new information raises questions about USDA's credibility," said Tom Davis and Henry Waxman, who followed up with "If this cow was not a downer cow, then their sample is too narrow." In what's become a vaudeville-type formula, Steve Cohen makes a blanket denial, then pretends to be clueless about some relevant issue (in this case whether the plant had a particular USDA contract for BSE testing) in the hopes they'll forget about it by next time... which, it seems, the press usually does. Hope they're gonna pay attention this time.

    UPDATE 2/18: Day-after coverage has more info, including the apparent first naming of the anonymous "third witness": "The House committee also received an affidavit from livestock hauler Randy Hull Jr., who said the cow had walked onto the trailer when he picked it up at a dairy in Mabton, Yakima County." Washington Post mentions that Hull provided a contract saying that he did not haul downer cows. This seems to contradict Louthan's earlier statement that the other cows in the truck were downers, but we'll see how that shakes out. The Seattle Times also calls into question the USDA's commitment to even doing the paltry "expanded" testing it's already promised: "The goal is to test 40,000 animals this year, double last year's efforts. In January, though, only 1,608 animals were tested nationwide, short of the more than 3,000 a month required to meet the goal."

    ALSO: several new details cast Cohen's fiegned cluelessness into extreme doubt (my italics here): "For the past year, Ellestad said, the slaughterhouse had a policy of refusing downer cattle, though it would slaughter animals unable to walk because they'd been injured in transit. He said USDA officials knew that. But last fall, before the mad-cow case was discovered, Ellestad said, the agency asked him to collect samples from slaughtered cattle for mad-cow testing anyway, because other slaughterhouses in the region refused to do so. Ellestad also said that shortly after the cow tested positive, the USDA ordered the slaughterhouse to stop collecting brain samples for mad-cow testing.

    AND: UPI's Steve Mitchell follows up with more damning detail: "Ellestad's affidavit also detailed a conversation he had on Jan. 19 with an unnamed Washington State official involved in USDA's BSE surveillance program, who said the cow in question had gone through a milking shed for three or four days after giving birth on Nov. 29, 2003. Ellestad said that means the cow was walking, which disputes USDA's contention the animal was injured during the birthing process. 'There would be no other way for her to go through the milking shed,' Ellestad said." And here's the specifics on the testing deal: "Ellestad said in June of 2003 USDA offered his company $10 for every brain sample from a downer animal it could deliver. Ellestad declined because his policy on downers had gone into effect and he no longer processed those animals. The USDA ultimately changed its offer to omit any reference in its purchase order form requiring the brains originate from downer animals, the affidavit said. Ellestad agreed to participate in the brain sampling program in October of 2003 and provided the committee with a copy of the USDA purchase order, which stated, "For each animal from which a BSE surveillance sample is collected, Vern's will be reimbursed $10." I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it's pretty clear the USDA knew exactly what was going on at Vern's Moses Lake, and these facts suggest they may have been purposely setting up the plant to take the fall for the "lone downer cow from Canada."

    STILL MORE: c/o VegSource, We find on Dave Louthan's Web page a little more detail about how the truck could be full of downers if they didn't take downers; unfortunately, it doesn't quite make things crystal clear... "The USDA vet asks the driver why are these cows down? Well Doc they fell down on the way over here. That's fine says Doc. Go ahead. No downers will be killed today. Just some cows who can't get up. The butcher says should we test these downers for BSE? Doc says what downers?" Huh? Is he saying the workers were routinely violating Moses Lake's policy? Or the vet was violating USDA policy? Sometimes colloquial language isn't the best choice. But this much is clear: "You people have got to stop buying beef. You have got to stop feeding that stuff to your kids. If you don't give them any money I guarantee you they will start testing in short order. Vote with your checkbook." Got that right. Also, here's the full Affidavit mentioned above (Large PDF), which looks to have lots of good specifics.


    Scientists in Italy have discovered a new form of Mad Cow disease which could explain a lot of current irregularities, and spell Big Trouble for the head-in-the-sand crowd.

      The brains of cattle with the new variation look different from cows with the classic form of mad cow disease, called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the researchers said. They look much more like the brains of people with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD -- not the kind that people catch from eating infected beef, but the kind that arises mysteriously in about one in a million people worldwide. More worrying, although the cattle were old, they had no visible symptoms of BSE and were only diagnosed after routine slaughter.
    OK, so already here, we're talking about the fact that there may well be Mad Cow in our food supply that wouldn't even be detected if we were testing all animals and could count on the testing lab. But note this, from the UPI version: "The new finding increases the possibility some cases of sporadic CJD also could be due to mad cow-infected meat, said Salvatore Monaco, a co-author of the study." Jeez, don't tell this woman! UPI (i.e. Steve Mitchell) dutifully reports, along with everyone else, Paul Brown's breezy dismissal of the possbility that people are getting sporadic CJD from Mad Cow meat, but then hits back with CU's Michael Hansen: "Hansen disputed the assessment and pointed out there actually have been increases in sporadic CJD in both the United Kingdom and Switzerland in recent years." Mitchell is, of course, also the only reporter I've found who matches up this bombshell to the CJD clusters in the US.
    ALSO: The AP version of the story concludes with this little gem: "An investigation seeking other cattle from the same herd ended last week with Agriculture officials saying they had located all but 11 suspect animals and concluding the rest could not be found." All but 11, huh? Nice that we've reclassified that other 41 after the fact. We were looking for them, but since we didn't find them, turns out we weren't really looking for them after all!

    Monday, February 16


    Re: That famous Harvard Risk Analysis of whether BSE would enter the US and/or spread, Tony Corbo of Public Citizen says "There is a disconnect between the Harvard study and the facts." But he doesn't just mean the fact that the Harvard folks said there was a very low risk of... er... what wound up happening, happening - the whole methodology of their study is being called into question. "One example is the Harvard study's assumption that a cow would have to eat 1 gram of infected material to come down with the disease. Kihm said most scientists now believe a cow would have to eat only 10 milligrams of infected material, a piece the size of a peppercorn, to catch the disease. That's 100 times smaller than the assumption in the Harvard study. Recent British studies suggest the infectious dose could be 400 micrograms, which is 25 times smaller than 10 milligrams."

    Gee, it's funny they would err on the side of a rosy outlook for the beef industry. The story also notes that "among the dozens of individuals the authors acknowledge provided scientific input and support were some with ties to ConAgra Beef, the National Cattleman's Beef Association, the National Renderers Association and the American Feed Industry Association."

    Meanwhile, if you're eating any of "a variety of products, from taco filling to pizza toppings, hot dogs and some types of sausage and beef jerky," you may be eating BSE-infused "meat paste," as the Seattle Times warns us that Dangerous cow parts still enter food supply. "Brains can also be used in headcheese and some other processed meat products, as long as they're listed on the label. No label is necessary when brains and spinal cords are cooked along with other ingredients to make beef broth, beef flavoring and beef extracts." Mmmmmm... meat paste...


    Losses at the Japanese unit of McDonald's tripled last year, notes SignOnSanDiego. "McDonald's Holdings Co.'s said it lost 7.12 billion yen ($67.6 million) for the year ended Dec. 31, far worse than the 2.34 billion yen loss the Tokyo-based chain chalked up in 2002." 2002... 2002... wasn't that the last time McDonald's entire operation went into a financial tailspin right after the Japan unit's troubles? Hmmmmm....