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General News    H1'ed 6/29/14

We're Eating WHAT? Mad Cow Risks Ignored By Authorities

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And there was more beef industry protectionism. For seven months, the government hid the fact of a second mad cow, found in Texas, until an inspector general went over the secretary of agriculture's head and conducted more definitive tests. No food warnings were issued. When the government finally did investigate the source of disease in the Texas cow and a subsequent Alabama cow found in 2006, it found no source. And even though the Texas and Alabama ranches exposed the public to one of the worst terminal diseases that exists, their identities were protected and they allowed them to resume operations in one month.

And there is more bad science. The meat recently recalled from Missouri-based Fruitland American Meat was considered at risk because it came from animals over 30 months old, but scientists have found the disease in cattle younger than that age. While the government and beef industry say that only some parts of an animal carry prions (brain, eyeballs, spinal cord, spleen, lymph nodes etc.) scientific articles have found them in muscle meat and blood.

When it comes to mad cow scares, Texas is ground zero. In 2001, two years before the Washington state mad cow, herds near Amarillo were quarantined for possibly eating banned animal meal that contained the disease. But this month, like in 2008 when there was another fatal vCJD case, Texas officials say the victim had contracted the disease abroad not from local beef which is, of course, pure speculation. Nor is a quick look at CJD cases in Texas between 2000 and 2013 comforting.

A Texas Department of State Health Services map shows two counties with 22 cases of CJD each and counties with 12, 8 and 7 cases. If the cases of CJD are not caused by animals, they would not occur in clusters nor would there be so many since the non-animal disease only occurs in one in a million people.

When mad cow first hit the U.S. in 2003, the U.S.' $3 billion a year beef export business evaporated. Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and ninety other countries refused U.S. beef. The only reason the European Union didn't ban U.S. beef was because it had already banned it for its high use of growth hormones. So it is no surprise government officials and the beef industry are seeking harm reduction when new mad cows are found. Is this why outbreaks of mad cow disease are suddenly termed "atypical" and "random"?

Two years ago when a fourth mad cow in the U.S. was found, it was said to suffer from "atypical" mad cow disease. It was "just a random mutation that can happen every once in a great while in an animal" and can "go on in nature all the time," reassured Bruce Akey, director of the New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University.

Of course "atypical" mad cow disease frees the government and beef industry from recalls, searches for contaminated feed (and herd mates and offspring) and depleted international and domestic markets. But is it true? And does the government have a good track record with mad cow?

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)
 

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