Saturday, May 29


There's a bunch of little developments and perspectives in the ongoing Mad-Cow brouhaha that need covered, so I'm gonna dump 'em all here:

  • Even the parent company of the USDA now says they're "disappointed" in it: The National Cattlemen's Beef Association board of directors is telling its members it is "very disappointed" with the agriculture department's handling of mad cow disease.

  • According to this Duluth paper, the USDA (which is supposedly about to vastly expand its BSE testing next week) still has been "unable for nine months now to document those [20,000] tests [in 2003] in response to a Freedom of Information Act request."

  • Fun with transcripts, part I: A Denver Post piece called "When advocates become regulators" profiles Charles Lambert, who spent 15 years at the NCBA before joining the USDA as undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. At a hearing less than one year ago, Lambert said mad cow disease wasn't a threat.
    "Is there a possibility that it could get through?" Rep. Joe Baca, a California Democrat, asked.
    Lambert answered, "No, sir."
    "None at all?" Baca asked.
    "No," Lambert replied.
    "You would bet your life on it - your job on it, right?"
    Lambert answered, "Yes, sir."
    And of course, Lambert, who now says, "I overstated my case," still has a job - the job he bet against Mad Cow showing up in the USA! "Whether it's intentional or not, USDA gives the impression of being a wholly owned subsidiary of America's cattlemen," sez Carol Tucker Foreman in the article. "Their interests
    rather than the public interests predominate in USDA policy."

  • Fun with transcripts, part II: At yesterday's Tele-News Conference with Ann M. Veneman and J.B.Penn, Veneman again said more cows will be found in the US to have BSE: "[W]e anticipate that we may find a few additional cows. And we are prepared for that. Certainly we've discussed this with our trading partners in terms of a very robust system that we are implementing in terms of surveillance in this country." Penn chimed in with " ... And we of course have made them aware that if we have additional BSE in our livestock herds then we'll very possibly find it." Oh, very possibly, huh? That's reassuring. Then comes this question from a reporter:

    Q: There's a claim that I believe is coming from not just RCALF but the Consumer Federation that the USDA's misrepresenting the Harvard Study saying that it does not account for the introduction, the possible introduction of diseased cattle from Canada or other countries and therefore you cannot make any presumptions about the state of the safety of the supply in this country.

    And Veneman says - wait for it - "I don't have any information," right. "Well, I don't have the benefit of having heard the RCALF press conference first of all, so I can't respond to specific allegations they may be making. But let me just say a word about the Harvard Study. ...And through that study it didn't say that we didn't have BSE or we wouldn't have BSE." No, the study didn't, Madame Secretary, you did, which is exactly what the questioner explicitly asked you. As you know, on Feb. 26, 2002 you said the study's conclusion was that "early government protection systems have been largely responsible for keeping BSE out of the United States." Liar.

  • Science corner: Here's an interesting angle. "With funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a group of UW-Madison researchers will investigate what happens if infectious prion proteins - considered the cause of chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease - enter wastewater treatment plants. At most treatment plants, microorganisms decompose biodegradable material in the sewage and, in theory, should also disintegrate infectious proteins, says McMahon. But as she points out, prion proteins generally are very resistant to degradation. "Prion proteins can be viewed as an environmental contaminant," says McMahon, adding that it currently is not known how long these proteins can remain intact and infectious in the environment.

    Well, fortunately, we don't drink wastewater. I mean, sure, sometimes by accident... but other than that, and in a few places here and there, I mean, sometimes wastewater can become tap water, and in that form, rather a lot, really...

  • This is where we might wish the USDA were allowing their workers to actually learn the new food-safety rules without taking a sick day from work. But don't worry, because the USDA may soon be investigating itself again over Mad Cow, this time, over the clear violation of its own policy to allow millions of pounds of Canadian processed beef into the US. Chuck Schumer "has requested the OIG look into who at the USDA made the decision and if the meat industry put pressure on the agency to ignore the Canadian restrictions." CSPI's Caroline Smith DeWaal sums it all up: "They've been ignoring the risks from (mad cow disease) in the human food supply since the 1990s, on the basis that we didn't have (mad cow) in this country, so now these assertions from the agency that there's no possibility that contaminated meat could reach U.S. consumers is really questionable."

  • Friday, May 28


    An intentionally frightening photo of former sex kitten Brigitte Bardot accompanies this story of her success in getting 24 Bulgarian dancing bears, formerly working for Gypsy families, returned to the wild. The article notes that "The brown bear has been a protected species in Bulgaria since 1991, which means that it is forbidden by law to sell or buy the animals or exhibit them to the public. But in spite of this some 20 families still earn their living using dancing bears, who need to be trained for years with methods that are considered cruel. Tsvetelina Ivanova from Four Legs said the organisation also offered them jobs in the bear reserve but they refused, saying it does not correspond with their lifestyle." Awwwww. Not quite cruel enough for you, huh? Sorry, but I have no sympathy for maintaining any "cultural heritage" that involves animal abuse, any more than I weep for crack dealers who would rather stick with that "lifestyle" than do honest work. Leave the bears alone and get a job, losers.


    Now it looks as though our health guardians are afraid of finding any form of dangerous contamination: A recent memo on the new HACCP food safety rules informs inspectors that the USDA will not reimburse them for travel expenses or give them time off to attend an educational session that's been scheduled during weekday working hours. Here's the money quote: "The memo says inspectors are free to attend a separate session on Saturday that is intended for industry personnel, but cautions 'seating preference will be given to the industry.'"

    This wry piece by Steve Mitchell slams the USDA's bogus excuses up against the wall with deadpan reporting: The USDA spokesman says the meeting was on a workday because "it would be more convenient for the inspectors rather than taking up their time in the evening," whereas "The industry meeting was scheduled for the weekend because 'a lot of companies find it easier to do these workshops on Saturday than they do during the work week.'" Steve Mitchell blithely notes the evasiveness: "Asked if a weekend meeting also might be more convenient for agency employees, Baun [completely changed the subject]."

    Later Mitchell spells out what should be obvious: USDA inspectors need the training more than industry employees "because they oversee the companies to ensure they are conducting the HACCP tests in an appropriate way and often help the plant employees understand what the regulations require of them."

    It all wraps up in a classic wry juxtaposition. "The CDC recently reported a 36 percent reduction in E. coli infections as well as drops in illnesses associated with other pathogens, an announcement that was hailed by the USDA and the meat industry as evidence the HACCP program was effective." Then: "The same week of the CDC announcement, however, the meat company Excel recalled 22 tons of beef due to possible E. coli contamination." Well, yeah.

    But here's the REAL kicker - this whole we-don't-want-you-to-learn-how-to-find-pathogens-so-we'll-make-it-egregiously-hard approach to scheduling? Casually tossed off in the middle of the story:

    USDA spokesman Matt Baun "said a similar approach had been used for training sessions on mad cow disease testing."

    Thursday, May 27


    "By severely limiting -- or completely cutting -- carbohydrates from their diets, many people may not be getting the full complement of nutrients required for optimal health," said Andy Davis, senior vice president for Wyeth Consumer Healthcare. And he should know, since he's putting out a vitamin expressly designed to make up for the deficiencies of Atkins-style diets. Of course he's got a vested interest in saying that, BUT he's also putting out a product he expects people will want. "Centrum Carb Assist is formulated with high levels of the B vitamins -- niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamins B6 and B12 -- as well as the antioxidants selenium, manganese, and vitamins C, D and E. It also has 100 percent recommended daily requirements of iron, zinc and copper." Jesus. Vitamin C and E, antioxidants, sure; but whodathunkit that you'd need a supplement for friggin' iron, zinc and B12? What exactly is the point of eating meat, again?

    Similarly, a government-commissioned panel of dietary experts on Wednesday gave "a cold shoulder to the craze for high-protein diets," stressing the need for a "variety" of foods. Given the above, it's unclear why meat should be included at all in that variety. More to the point, the draft language "is not as straight forward as I think it needs to be," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for activist group Center for Science in the Public Interest. "You have to cut calories, too." Hmmmm... what kind of food is low in calories and high in nutrients?

    All this would be kind of academic if it weren't so dangerous to eat so much animal protein. A dieter suing Atkins says "following the Atkins diet for two years raised the man's cholesterol so much that his arteries became clogged and required a medical procedure to open them." Specifically, after just two months on it, "his cholesterol shot from 146, well within the normal range, to 230, considered in the hazardous range. In October 2003, after three episodes of chest pain, doctors found that Mr. Gorran had a 99 percent blockage in a major artery and performed angioplasty and inserted a stent to keep it open. Before starting the diet, he said, tests showed that his arteries were clear. Within two months after going off the Atkins diet, where his favorite foods were cheese every day and cheesecake three times a week, his cholesterol dropped to 146."

    The American Heart Association said it would not comment on the suit, but issued a statement saying, "Eating large amounts of high-fat foods for a sustained period raises the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and several types of cancer."

    Wednesday, May 26


    "The Agriculture Department is rescinding new organic food guidelines that allowed limited use of pesticides and antibiotics, which had prompted criticism from some consumer groups and organic farmers." This is a happy "ending," yes, but it once again demonstrates that the USDA is either run by incompetents who simply do not grasp their basic task, or they continually push things as far as conceivably possible to accomodate their Big Biz cronies, and pull back only when the blowback gets too extreme. I suspect it may be both.

    Tuesday, May 25


    Britain announced a new national "centre" to reduce animal tests and "raise standards of welfare." The BBC reports that "funding for reduction, replacement and refinement of animal tests, known as the "three R's", will rise from £330,000 to £660,000 in this financial year." Sounds like a lot of money, I guess. But some critics point out that the "replacement" R is geting short shrift among the three. Jan Creamer, chief executive of National Anti-Vivisection Society, said "we have been lobbying for years for a national centre for replacement. But we can't take part in an organisation that funds animal experiments, because it would be at odds with our remit." She continued: "Refinement and reduction already have plenty of money spent on them - it is replacement that is starved of funds."

    Monday, May 24


    An animal rights organization Wednesday called on Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist to investigate alleged cocaine use at dog tracks across the state, including the Fort Myers-Naples track in Bonita Springs. The Bonita track leads the state with 10 greyhounds testing positive for cocaine during the past three years. Overall, "119 dogs at Florida's 18 greyhound tracks have tested positive for cocaine during that time period."