How now, mad cow?
Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the biochemist who discovered prions
, isn't happy with Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman's response to the dangers of "mad cow disease". Perhaps he shouldn't have expected more from a former cattle industry lobbyist. The only reason mad cow disease had not been found here, he said, is that the department's animal inspection agency was testing too few animals. Once more cows are tested, he added, "we'll be able to understand the magnitude of our problem."
Meanwhile, you can look at how the problem was handled in the UK, and see if it looks like we're starting down the same bad road.
Or you can see what the beef industry is saying:
From the American Meat Institute, we learn the following:
- This case poses no
risk to consumers because as USDA Secretary Ann Veneman stated, the BSE
infectious agent in not found in beef muscle, such as steaks, roasts and
ground beef. [That's true for living animals; meat -- particularly ground beef -- can easily be contaminated with prion-bearing material during meat processing in factory-style slaughterhouses which emphasize speed above all else.]
- By law, all livestock are inspected before processing to ensure
that they are healthy. [The testing, however, does not include testing for BSE.]
And from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association
- The U.S. has conducted a BSE surveillance program since 1990 and this is
the first possible case that has been found. [What he doesn't say is that over 35,000,000 cattle are slaughtered in the US each year, while fewer than 10,000 are tested.]
- All scientific
studies show that the BSE infectious agent has never been found in beef muscle
meat or milk and U.S. beef remains safe to eat. [While this is true for living cows, the possibility of contamination of muscle meat during processing remains.]
- BSE affects older cattle, typically over 30 months of age. The vast
majority of the cattle going to market in the U.S. are less than 24
months old. [Japan is currently the only country where all cattle are tested for BSE. They have found the BSE-causing prion in younger cattle well before they show symptoms of the disease. The stage where the cows show symptoms are what the "over 30 months" refers to.]
- The only way BSE spreads is through contaminated feed. The U.S. Food &
Drug Administration in 1997 instituted a ban on feeding ruminant-derived
meat and bone meal supplements to cattle. [This is flatly wrong. Transmission of the disease from cow to calf has been observed. And the ban he refers to is a big step in the right direction -- if it is observed and enforced. There's a fair bit of evidence that neither is true.]