Corporations blamed for mad cow disease

SEATTLE – By now, pretty much everyone in the United States has heard of the Holstein from Mabton, Wash., found to be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as “mad cow disease.” What people may not know is how this disease that devastated the British beef industry in the ’90s has been allowed to spread to Washington state.

After all, don’t we have governmental agencies set up to protect our food, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? Yes, we do have these agencies, but anyone who has wondered what ill-effects the push for “less government” has gotten us need look no further.

Along with the defunding of these government departments, corporate greed in the $180 billion U.S. beef industry has helped create a mad cow crisis in our country. The practice of feeding a species its own dead – forced “cow cannibalism” if you will – has been shown to be one of the root causes of BSE. The government has no basis for claiming that the 1997 FDA ban on feeding cow slaughterhouse remains to other cows, the most common transmission path, will prevent spread of the disease. The agency’s own survey found 25 percent of feed plants out of compliance. In fact, the Mabton Holstein was born after the ban.

The Bush administration should bear much of the responsibility for this outbreak. As of yet, it has not acted with any significant corrective measures. “The Bush administration had an opportunity to avoid this situation, and to save millions and millions of dollars for the beef industry in this country,” said presidential candidate Howard Dean.

“There are many in the cattle industry who will continue to resist much-needed changes,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “I urge President Bush for once not to listen to the demands of corporate America and act on behalf of the health and economic needs of all Americans.”

Presidential contender Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who, incidentally, is a vegetarian, has devoted a web page to mad cow disease which states, “Last year, the USDA tested only 19,990 cattle believed to be at risk for mad cow disease, out of a population of about 96 million or 1 out of every 5,000 cattle. By contrast, in Europe every single animal above a given age gets tested for this fatal brain-wasting disease (one out of every four cattle).”

Kucinich proposes seven new steps to help make meat safer: Prohibit meat from downer cattle from entering the human food supply; test all downer cattle (estimates range from 190,000 to 970,000 animals) using modern rapid quick tests; establish a mandatory trace back system for all bovines; require mandatory recall of food products infected; prohibit the feeding of the remains of any mammal to any animals that humans eat; tighten the law on dietary supplements, which currently allows supplements to contain central nervous system tissue; and require doctors and hospitals to report all cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob (mad cow) to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All of these measures would enhance public health but would also cut into the meatpacking industry’s fat corporate profits. Hence the resistance.

Back in 1998, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton wrote a book titled, “Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?” In an interview shortly thereafter, Stauber said, “While the USDA and FDA are supposed to be protecting U.S. consumers from the sorts of dangers we’ve been discussing, a central function of theirs is to promote sales for the meat and dairy industries.”

The Senate approved language last November that would have banned the slaughtering of downed animals for human food, but House Republican leaders dropped it from a final spending bill. On the last day of 2003, the USDA put a ban on specified risk materials in the human food supply, but this applies to animals 30 months or older, despite the fact that several cattle found to harbor the disease were younger than 24 months of age.

The author can be reached at commiett@yahoo.com.