I've been poking around on the Internet over the past few days, following up on my feeling that the underlying cause of the mad cow problem is fattening cows feedlots: the cattle aren't getting th disease from grass, and if they were eating grass like they're supposed to, they wouldn't be exposed in the first place.
The practice of fattening cows in feedlots kills a lot more people through heart disease by reducing the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids in beef and by increasing their fat content. Even if one assumes that mad cow disease is out there in the food supply, if one eats industrial beef, the odds of dying of heart disease caused by modern feedlot practices are vastly higher than the chances of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. I haven't seen any discussion of this in the frenzy of media coverage of the Mad Cow of Washington.
My researches showed me that the situation is more complex and worse than I had imagined.
First of all, I learned a few new euphemisms: depopulated (which means killed, and is somehow distinct from slaughtered which for some implies killed for consumption, as distinct from euthanized; I don't know how to compare euthanized and depopulated), as in Both the mother cow and the offspring will be depopulated and tested for BSE. And non-ambulatory, (too sick to stand), as in USDA announced that a single non-ambulatory cow that had been slaughtered on December 9 at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Washington State was presumptive positive for BSE.
That there would be controversy over whether cows too sick to stand should be allowed to be slaughtered for human consumption, I had never imagined. This is just common sense, right? Don't eat sick animals. But apparently, this is a contested issue. Ugh. And I like my meat rare.
Howard Dean, who is good on the subject of public health, remarks:
Congress has attempted to ban the slaughter of cattle that are too sick to walk but administration has blocked them. Such a ban [might] have prevented the current situation in Washington. The Bush administration has also resisted attempts to implement a better cattle tracking system despite the urging of scientists such as Nobel Laureate Stanley Prusiner, the scientist who identified the proteins that cause Mad Cow Disease.
Mike Allen remarks in the Washington Post:
Bush donned a cowboy hat when he spoke last year to the annual convention of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and livestock interests have been among his most reliable supporters. The Center for Responsive Politics found that 79 percent of the livestock industry's $4.7 million in contributions for the 2000 elections went to Republicans. Of the $1.1 million the industry has given so far for next year's election, 84 percent went to the GOP.
We already knew that big Bush campaign contributors get what they pay for. Here are some other examples of what these contributions bought:
- Bush School Lunch Proposal: Yet Another Favor to Special Interests That Funded Campaign (April 2001)
President BushÅfs proposal to reject a Clinton administration requirement that all beef served to children in the school lunch program be tested for salmonella and instead be irradiated is the latest in a series of moves intended to weaken consumer protection laws for the benefit of his corporate supporters, Public Citizen said Thursday.
Numerous companies and industry groups that would benefit from the proposal not only contributed heavily to BushÅfs presidential campaign, but their executives assumed key roles on the presidentÅfs transition team, according to research by Public Citizen.
During 2000, food companies and industry groups with a major stake in the proliferation of irradiated food gave $3.3 million to national Republican Party committees and federal candidates. Those same companies gave $654,000 to national Democratic Party committees and federal candidates. The companies include IBP (formerly known as Iowa Beef Packers) and Tyson Foods. The industry groups include the Food Marketing Institute and National Food Processors Association.
- Bush administration opposes releasing retailer lists during meat recalls (March 2003)
- and Bush against Oprah:
Bush is inconsistent with his vision of tort reform. He did not consider the Texas Cattlemen Association's suit against Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman (ex-cattle rancher) for questioning the health and safety of the beef industry, a "frivolous" lawsuit. He supports the use of Texas "food disparagement laws" to bring lawsuits which will limit first amendment rights of free speech.
And here's another thing I never would have thought of: Dairy cattle are more vulnerable to mad cow than beef cattle. Why? Because many are taken from their mothers a day after birth and are then formula fed and given protein supplements which contain cow's blood. They are deprived of mother's milk and all its immune globulins, and fed the blood of their own species at a time when their immune system is not yet developed. There is something deeply perverse about formula-fed calves, and even more deeply perverse -- even Bluebeard-like -- about feeding calves the blood of other cattle. But perverse or not, this is not something that should be happening in the human food supply.
It seems to me that the meat industry is due for a serious house-cleaning. In the meantime, if you eat beef, eat free-range grass-fed beef.
Our local health foods store, Mrs. Greens, carries free-range beef from Adams Farm, 775 Bearsdon Road, Athol, MA 01331, (978)249-9441. It's nice to know exactly where it comes from.