Note: This article was first published in The Viking News, November 19, 2003, one month before the USDA announced that the first BSE-infected Holstein was discovered on a dairy farm in Washington (December 23, 2003). The Viking News is a bi-weekly publication of the State University of New York, Westchester Community College.
By Taffy Lee Williams
What's the latest blight in the American food supply? Hint: It originates in stench and feces-filled factory farms and is a result of human-induced bovine cannibalism.
Factory farms, you say? Ah, where hundreds of dead cattle parts are dropped together into a vat and churned into a massive clod to make red piles of ground beef for hungry humans. Factory farms? The places where up to 1000 cows an hour are belly-ripped open while hanging upside down by one leg, usually still kicking? Ah yes, the speed of the kill (actually ten times the legal limit of 100 per hour).
Slaughterhouse horrors notwithstanding, what does one do with the "inedible" parts, the ones that don't make it into your Hearty Beef Soup or the "real beef" cans of cat food? Simple enough: maximize profit; waste not. That's the American way. Why, all those dead cow parts are ground up and added to the pellets fed back to cows. But there's just one glitch: the "protein enriched" feed is a one way meal ticket to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in humans called Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a.k.a. mad cow disease.
The name is befitting the disease, for it is the madness of the unquenching thirst for profit embedded in our social system and business practices that ultimately brought this blight upon us. It is in the maddening pace of economic production, of a system where the unheard dying screams of the miserable butchered factory farm animals slaughtered in a frenzied bloodbath, a staggering and obscene 5 billion each year, are witnessed only by the perpetrators of this violence. "If people knew how it died, they'd never eat it," I have heard it said.
Mad cow is a product of carnivorous human consumption. If people didn't eat meat... actually, this sentence could be followed by a number of clauses. Let's see...
In the US, 87% of US agricultural lands are dedicated to raising food for factory farm animals, who produce 130 times more excrement than the entire human population: 86,600 pounds per second. Factory farm waste is the leading source of US water pollution. (The waste from a city with a population of 12,000 equals the waste from just one pig farm.) A cow needs 30 gallons of fresh water per day, but it takes only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat. In order to create grazing land, 125,000 square miles of rainforest are being destroyed each year. If people didn't eat meat....
Some believe mad cow may already be at epidemic levels in the US. In the case of BSE, the USDA/FDA have again proven themselves to place the prosperity of these houses of horror above the public health they are charged to protect.
When transmitted to humans, mad cow, as CJD, eats away brain matter giving it a sponge-like appearance. The symptoms begin with memory loss and imbalance, then progress to an inability to move, talk, or swallow. Death soon follows. Except for the speed of its progress, the symptoms are typical of Alzheimer's and dementia as well. A Yale University study as early as 1989 found that 13% of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease actually had CJD.
There are 4 million patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's each year, along with hundreds of thousands of "dementia" cases. The only way to accurately diagnose for CJD is by autopsy after death. However, in the US, autopsies are performed on 15% or less of all corpses. The number of deaths attributed to Alzheimer's has risen 50-fold since 1979, to almost 50,000 in 2000. CJD may be responsible, at least in part, for the dramatic increase. (Alzheimer's disease has actually become a kind of catch-all phrase for a wide range of neurologically-related dementia.) When four previously undiagnosed CJD cases were discovered upon autopsy, some questioned whether a BSE-CJD epidemic was already upon us.
A report released on October 10, 2003, revealed that 300 US companies are violating federal regulations meant to prevent mad cow. The flaunted laws would prevent cattle and ruminant parts from being fed to cows, thereby stopping the transmission.
Due to the widespread non-compliance with mad cow prevention laws, cattle ranchers and dairy operators can't easily locate safe cattle feed. The FDA isn't helping. In fact, the government agency hasn't organized its data coherently enough enable for the cattle industry to identify which companies are in compliance. To make matters worse, only 9% of downer cattle (those who cannot walk, display neurological problems, or are killed for anything except routine slaughter) are actually tested for BSE. That's compared to 100% of downer-testing in the European Union. One wonders if the USDA's lack of oversight or enforcement of mad cow preventing rules is a deliberate attempt to minimize damage to the industry, the public be damned.
When this writer trained for hospice in 1998 in Westchester County's own New Rochelle, the head nurse mentioned a fellow who had just died to another nurse. "He was the one with mad cow."
My ears perked up. "Mad cow? Here?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Really? I didn't know it was here. It's not supposed to be here. Not in the US!"
She nodded but gave no other response.
In the spring of 2003, after finding one BSE-infected cow in Canada the US closed the borders to their beef, costing our northern neighbor billions of dollars. The initial outbreaks in 1996 in Europe, notably the UK and Switzerland, caused widespread cattle slaughter and devastated their industry as well.
The US beef industry has reveled in the international mad cow scare. Prices for US beef have soared. One NYC butcher offers his home grown sirloin cut at a mere $42.00 per lb. But although American, in light of the above, is American beef really safe?
How many of you remember your dear Aunt Mary? (Everyone has a dear Aunt Mary.) One day all of a sudden she just seemed to "lose it." She quickly deteriorated into a semi-vegetative shell of her former self, only to mercifully die from that strange but ubiquitous Alzheimer's dementia.
"A severe case," they called it. Kind of makes you wonder.
$42.00 per pound for the source of spongiform. Human brains full of holes. 13% of Alzheimer's victims. Bovine revenge? Maybe we should call it Laughing Mad Cow Disease.
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