Friday, May 21


It's almost impossible to keep track of all the elements of the USDA's screwed-up Mad Cow strategy, though the federal investigations do help. The latest is into "allegations an agency supervisor in Texas violated federal policy and ordered that a suspect cow not be tested for mad cow disease." In his ongoing quest to rake the Mad Cow muck, Steve Mitchell also finds that at that same Texas facility, the USDA did not test any cows for mad cow disease in the past seven months. "The USDA also failed to test a single cow in 2002 at another Texas slaughterhouse that processes high-risk, downer cows." And this is getting to be a common refrain: "A woman at [the other slaughterhouse,] San Angelo Packing, who refused to identify herself, declined to comment, saying the president of the company, whom she also would not identify, was out of town."

Lack of information seems to be the main concept here, applied as liberally as the meatpackers and their lobbyists can get away with. In addition to the above stonewalling, the USDA "has failed to supply the number of cows exhibiting signs of a brain disorder it has tested for mad cow disease to Japanese authorities, who requested the information more than four months ago." Mitchell continues, quoting a Japanes official, that "the USDA has also failed to address other questions about how the agency is ensuring mad cow disease does not infect U.S. herds." Despite our attempts to bamboozle the Japanese into accepting our risky meat, this official saw the problem pretty clearly: "For some reason, this government can't do anything the big meat industry (opposes)," he said.

And as Ann Veneman's resignation is demanded over the department's breaking of its own rules in secretly importing Canadian beef, what's her rebuttal? "I didn't know." Come on, how's she supposed to keep track of every little life- and economy-threatening issue that's the biggest story her agency has faced in decades? Really, now. When "who knows?" is your organization's basic operating principle, you gotta expect a couple oddball developments here and there.

And speaking of developments, that's the trouble. BSE could still be developing in our herds as well as in our population. In our herds because the FDA is still doesn't have Mad Cow feed rules announced, much less in place and enforced, and can't even say when this will happen. So any feed that's "at risk" is still getting fed to cows right now, with potential consequences several years down the road. And according to British scientists, BSE is still developing in the human population, with up to 4,000 people over there unwittingly carrying it. (But none here, of course, since we have a Firewall against Mad Cow.) The concern is that these folks, even if they don't get Mad Cow symptoms, could still pose a risk to others as blood donors "or if they had an operation which involved instruments contacting infected tissue." It's being called a Mad Cow Time Bomb. But when it comes to the USDA, the key word is: Dud.

UPDATE 5/24: Veneman lied about not knowing, says Cattlemen's group, adding "there were numerous indications Veneman would have been aware" of the millions of pounds meat illegally crossing the border. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer puts it bluntly: "Don't trust USDA about mad cow." And the Wilmington Star-News both states outright that Veneman is a liar and accuses her of cronyism and profiteering.
ALSO: Mad Cow-type prions are discovered in sheep muscle, but don't worry, if sheep have Mad Cow, "it probably would be in very small amounts." And we all know it takes a huge amount of that stuff to infect anybody.

Thursday, May 20


This is a biggie: The Detroit Zoo will become the nation's first major animal facility to give away its elephants solely on ethical grounds. Apparently the director, Ron Kagan, is an old softie who has spoken out against sport hunting, sent a zoo expert to testify against a circus using polar bears in Puerto Rico and pissed off other animal-abuse lovers from time to time. He spells out what this means: "If we don't feel like we can (keep elephants), then the question is, who can and how?," he said. "For us, there really is a big question about whether elephants should be in captivity at all." Yes, there is, as there are about other animals. But even there he leaves the window open: "In the future, there may very well be more species that we'll look back and say, 'We just didn't understand.'" What's noteworthy is that while this is one (large) zoo, even the director of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association admits "We're seeing an evolution in elephant management." Kagan sums up this milestone pretty well:
"I wouldn't expect the American public - which has been told for 100 years it's OK to have elephants in captivity - to say 'Oh, OK, we understand' right away. But we have an educational mission. The zoo is the window into our humanity, and how we treat other things in nature."

Wednesday, May 19


Even though Mark Bittman isn't a vegetarian himself, he does a good job making the case in this column: "Thirty years ago vegetarian food in America meant either brown rice and vegetables stir-fried until lifeless or something cooked in the style of the original Moosewood Cookbook - heavily laden with cheese and cream. Now vegetarian food draws from the traditions of the entire world, traditions that, in the form of ingredients, spices and cooking tools, are now available to everyone, at least those with access to good supermarkets or the Internet." Note that "cheese and cream" part. There are seven recipes accompanying the piece, only one of which is not vegan: Rice and Cheese.

Tuesday, May 18


Another week, another good-news-bad-news story on Atkins. Some papers, again, cast it (ludicrously) as a "vindication" story, while others see it as another "where's the big results?" story. Two studies just came out: Basically they both found that low-carbers who had lost weight dramatically after six months had gained a good bit of it back by the end of a year, while "moderate-fat" dieters (nothing near vegan, of course) continued to slowly lose weight. In the MSN version, Dr. Glenn Gasser of the University of Virginia predicts this longer-term research is the beginning of the end of the Atkins fad. "My guess is that, in a few years, people will look at themselves in the mirror and they won't see much difference in this low-carb diet they've been on for a number of years, and will go on to something else." Similarly, "I don't care that low-carb diets produce short-term weight loss; all diets do," said a Yale nutrition specialist, Dr. David L. Katz. "When you go out a year, the weight loss benefits disappear." Even the lead author of the study said "if it's not effective at a year, it negates what happens at six months." And Walter Willet, who's often dragged in to "endorse" Atkins in these stories, notes that "Patients should focus on finding ways to eat that they can maintain indefinitely rather than seeking diets that promote rapid weight loss."

Of course the Atkins group reported more side effects such as constipation and headaches, but PCRM brings us the most alarming news hidden in the studies - that two participants on the low-carb diet died in the course of the study. Whether there's a causal connection isn't proven, but it may be irrelevant: Now not just orange growers and bread makers but "industry insiders" say the low-carb boom has peaked. "Sales of low-carb products have fallen sharply at independent and health food stores, and some longtime industry insiders say a shakeout has begun. Even as they rush to cash in on the craze, some major food manufacturers say they see the phenomenon cooling down and becoming one part of the broad market for weight-loss products." Just another part of the broad market? Atkins must be sloshing around in his grave.

Monday, May 17


Public comment on the USDA's ban on allowing "downer" cattle into the food supply is running 10 to 1 in favor of the restriction, while cattle groups and some U.S. states are pushing to weaken the ban on the consumption of downers. Any doubts now on the disconnect between the meat industry and the public interest?

Sunday, May 16


Here are the "Super Foods" everybody should eat more of, according to nutrition experts in the Chicago Tribune: Avocados, blueberries, Brazil nuts, broccoli, butternut squash, edamame, flaxseed, kale, kiwifruit, lentils, onions, quinoa, sardines, tomatoes and yogurt. And here are the Runners-Up: Apples, Asparagus, Bananas, Beans, Beets (and beet greens), Cantaloupe, Carrots, Cranberries, Garlic, Grapes, Nuts, Mushrooms (shiitake, enoki), Oats and oatmeal, Olives and olive oil, Oranges and orange juice, Pears, Peppers (bell and chili), Pomegranates, Spinach, Strawberries, Sweet potatoes, Tea (white, green, oolong and black).

So out of 25 foods everyone needs more of, there are exactly 2 non-vegan items, one of which has an exact soy equivalent, the other of which - well, how can I put this gently - is just this side of absurd.