Thursday, April 26, 2012

Another Mad Cow

A dairy cow in California tested positive this week for BSE or mad cow disease.

The USDA said there is no threat to the food supply because the cow's body never made it to the rendering vat. It does leave a question about the cow's milk. The public consumed that milk. And although it's not known if mad cow disease can be transmitted to humans from cows' milk, it is known that scrapie, the parallel disease in sheep, can be transmitted to lambs via milk:
"Last year researchers demonstrated that the ingestion of as little as 1 to 2 quarts of milk from scrapie-infected sheep stricken with mastitis could cause prion infection in lambs at an attack rate of 86%."
The Reuters article said USDA tests 40,000 of 34 million cattle slaughtered in a year. That's 0.1%. I'm reminded of this post: Mad Cow: "Don't Look, Don't Find" (a quote from Jean Halloran, then Director of the Consumer Policy Institute at Consumer's Union, describing USDA's mad cow policy), where I discovered:
  • Japan tests nearly 100% of its slaughtered cattle.
  • The European Union tests about 30%.
  • The US tests about 0.1%.
Not only doesn't the USDA test adequately for mad cow, it prohibits private companies from testing (and sues if they do):
"Detection of BSE is needlessly hindered by the fact that USDA prohibits private companies from testing their own beef. Private testing could augment USDA testing and provide an extra measure of monitoring and assurance of safety to consumers. USDA only tests cattle that are sent to the renderer and doesn’t test at slaughterhouses. We find it hard to understand why USDA prohibits private companies from testing."
- Consumers Union Statement On BSE Positive Cow, 24 April, 2012
"The Agriculture Department is within bounds to bar meatpackers from testing slaughter cattle for mad cow disease, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel said in a 2-1 ruling on Friday."
- Court Bars Meatpacker Tests For Mad Cow, Reuters, August, 2008
Why does USDA prohibit private testing? If BSE is found to be more pervasive than thought, it would be costly for the cattle industry and could damage public trust in the food supply. The USDA exists in part to promote the beef industry and to ensure trust in the food supply.

The Organic Consumers Association says:
"We suspect there are many other USA Mad Cows confined in feedlots and factory scale dairies."
I think so.
Photo of a "cow carousel" at Clauss Dairy Farms in Hilmar, California from Not related to the farm in Hanford, CA where the mad cow was discovered.


Bix said...

This is yet another case of the perpetual struggle between liberties (corporate liberties are the same as personal liberties?) and public health.

Bix said...

John Robbins has an article in Huffington Post addressing the same lack of testing problem.

But there's a problem. Could this be a case of "Don't look, don't find"? Nearly 34 million cattle are slaughtered every year in the U.S. Of those, only 40,000 are tested for BSE. That's about one in every thousand animals. If we tested 80,000, would we find two? If we tested them all, would we find 1,000 cases a year? One cow can make its way into many thousands of burgers. So then, how many burgers might be contaminated?

No one knows. And it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the U.S. meat industry would like to keep it that way. The disease in humans is invariably fatal, but it takes years to show up, and can appear to be an early-onset and rapidly developing dementia. As a result, it is very difficult to track."