For Amarillo, it's déjà vu all over again.
Ten years ago, Oprah Winfrey was in town courtesy of Texas cattlemen who sued her for disparaging hamburgers on her show. P.S. She won.
Now mad cow is back in the news as the Amarillo Public Health Department confirms a hospitalized local woman is being tested for the human variety--and cattle futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are tanking.
The only thing big meat fears more than a domestic case of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) -- human mad cow--is a cluster of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease which can't be dismissed as random or sporadic.
And the only thing it fears more than either one is a case or cluster in Texas where the first domestically produced case of mad cow disease occurred in 2005.
And where federal and state officials still protect the "privacy" of the farm.
No wonder Ted McCollum, beef cattle specialist with the Amarillo office of Texas AgriLife Extension called the Amarillo woman's case sporadic before tests were even concluded--and on the same day health officials said they didn't know.
It's not easy covering up mad cow investigations but big meat does its best with the help of state and federal government.
Who realizes that the first US mad cow, born in Canada but found in Washington state in 2003, was eaten by diners in 11 restaurants in nine California counties according to the San Francisco Chronicle?
Especially when the USDA's Summary Report, Epidemiological Investigation of Washington State BSE Case, says "This product was disposed of in a landfill in accordance with Federal, State and local ordinances."
Why was the first report of former mayor of Buffalo, NY James D. Griffin 's death from CJD by local TV station WIVB in May retracted on the Web--the link read: the page you requested is currently unavailable--only to surface in November?
To protect meat markets in light of the fact that "We have just recently seen a cluster of cases," according to Griffin's doctor Laszlo Mechtler, vice president at the Dent Neurologic Institute, in western New York?
Of course, when it comes to mad cow threats, big meat has three agricultural parachutes.
One is the long incubation period of human mad cow--making it almost impossible to prove the food source biologically or legally.
The second is a public which figures if it tastes good it's safe unlike the South Korean public which rioted night after night over the same food in May. Go figure.
And the third is federal and state governments which will gladly suspend First Amendment rights and risk the public's health to help agribusiness.
That is how big meat plowed through "food disparagement laws" in more than 13 states in the 1990's--under which Oprah was sued--which are still on the books today.
It's how restaurants who served potentially lethal meat are "protected."
And it is why the ranches, dealers, breeders and processors in Texas and Alabama who dumped mad cows on the public in 2005 and 2006 are protected as "Farm A" and "Farm B" in official USDA investigation documents. And no doubt still doing business.
But maybe the public has had enough.
When Agriculture Secretary Edward Schafer told the public the identity of the stores selling meat from downer cows at Hallmark Meat Company in February during the school lunch scandal was none of their business, they said you're protecting WHO?
The Bush administration was forced to reverse its position, and Schafer admitted that, "People want to know if they need to be on the lookout for recalled meat and poultry from their local store."
It was a small breakthrough.
Food retailers criticized the decision.