Dec. 28th, 2003

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Blame Canada - South Park Agriculture Policy Comes to a Country Near You

So by now you've probably heard that the diseased cow "is thought to have come from Canada." You've probably heard that because the story saturated the media yesterday. It went something like this.
Investigators tentatively traced the first U.S. cow with mad cow disease to Canada, which could help determine the scope of the outbreak and might even limit the economic damage to the American beef industry.

In addition, a quarantined herd of 400 calves including an offspring of the sick cow likely will be killed, the Agriculture Department said Saturday. The herd was at a farm in Sunnyside, Wash., which officials refused to name.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, the Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian, said on Saturday that Canadian officials provided records indicating the sick Holstein was in a herd of 74 cattle shipped from Alberta, Canada, into this country in August 2001 at Eastport, Idaho.

``These animals were all dairy cattle and entered the U.S. only about two or two-and-a-half years ago, so most of them are still likely alive,'' DeHaven said.

The sick cow's presence in that herd does not mean all 74 animals are infected, DeHaven said. Investigators will probably find where the other 73 animals are within a matter of days, he said. Finding them will help investigators determine if any other animals are sick and need to be tested.

In May, Canada found a lone cow with the disease in Alberta but has not been able to determine the source of infection.

If U.S. and Canadian officials confirm that the sick cow in Washington state came from Canada, it might save the export market for the American beef industry because the United States could keep its disease-free status and continue trade...

Dig it. If any other animals are sick and need to be tested. Because we wouldn't want to waste any money testing animals that don't have the staggers, even if the disease has a long latency period.

And guess what? We don't have to.
During a House debate last summer over a possible ban on using sick and injured cows for meat, Representative Gary L. Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, held up a photo of a crippled cow and cautioned that such "downer animals" carried the highest risk for mad cow disease.

But Representative Charles W. Stenholm, a powerful Texas Democrat and a rancher, countered that the government's screening program was tight enough to prevent any problems.

"The picture the gentleman is showing, that sick animal, will never find its way into the food chain," Mr. Stenholm said. "Period."

But now that a downer cow has the first confirmed case of mad cow disease in the United States, critics are assailing the beef industry and federal regulators for not taking greater precautions since the disease exploded overseas in the mid-1980's.

Though some scientists had long warned that mad cow disease would eventually appear in the United States, cattle owners and meatpackers repeatedly resisted calls for a more substantial program to test for the disease, and the Agriculture Department went along with them. Congress came close three times to banning the sale of meat from downer cows -- ones that are too sick or hurt to amble into slaughterhouses -- only to see the industry's allies block each of the bills at the last moment. And proposals for systems to track which farms produced sickened cattle -- now required in Europe, Canada and Japan -- also languished for years here.

"This is one of these times when unrealistic optimism triumphed over responsibility to the public," said Carol Tucker Foreman, a consumer advocate who ran the Agriculture Department's food-safety programs in the Carter administration.

If a number of countries stick with hastily announced plans to ban American beef, she added, "I think the damage to the American meat industry costs infinitely more than anything U.S. cattlemen would have had to pay to do this thing right."

Each year at least 200,000 cattle -- and perhaps many more -- are downers, and some of these animals could have mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which can destroy an animal's brain and central nervous system and lead to similar ailments in humans who eat diseased meat.

That is only a small fraction of the 104 million cattle in the United States and the 35 million slaughtered each year, suggesting that the industry may have taken a disproportionate risk in continuing to sell meat from the downers.

Government officials and packinghouse executives are now rethinking their positions and promising at least to consider many of the proposed changes they once rejected. They still say it did not make sense to do more earlier, given how expensive it would have been to guard against a disease that was not yet visible...

Another good way to cut those onerous costs: don't test the cows.
Long under fire from health experts for what they see as lax slaughterhouse rules, the USDA may be forced to upgrade its programme of checking cattle at the slaughterhouse in any event, something the farm lobbies have successfully resisted up to now.

European and Japanese regulators use testing procedures that can determine whether a cow is infected in three hours, quickly enough to stop it from being slaughtered.

The availability of such tests and the infrequency of the much slower -- and ex post facto -- American testing are putting much pressure on the USDA to revamp the way it regulates the meat trade.

US inspectors have tested fewer than 30,000 of the 300 million animals slaughtered in the last nine years, and they get results days or weeks later, the New York Times reported. And according to Mr DeHaven, the US system was never intended to keep sick animals from reaching the public's refrigerators. It is "a surveillance system, not a food safety test," he said.

Of course, if you don't test the cows, there is that remote possibility that the disease is going to get into the food stream.
Northwest residents probably have eaten meat from a Holstein with mad cow disease, agriculture officials said Friday, as several grocery chains recalled specific kinds of beef that could contain the cow's meat.

Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway and WinCo Foods all received batches of beef, which could have contained bits of the sick cow, from Interstate Meat Distributors in Portland. It was sold mostly as ground beef to Northwest customers from about Dec. 15 through Dec. 23 -- although Safeway's recall includes 69 pounds of "fresh beef hearts."

"From a practical standpoint, some of this has already been consumed and can't be recalled," given the beef's distribution dates, said Dalton Hobbes, a spokesman for Oregon's Department of Agriculture.

Also Friday, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman said the sick cow's discovery was partly luck: Another of the 20 cows being slaughtered at Vern's Moses Lake Meats on Dec. 9 was acting strangely, so inspectors sent tissue from all 20 cows for testing, Daniel Puzo said. Those tests showed the disease instead affected the Holstein, whose only notable injury came while giving birth.

"It's very ironic, actually," Puzo said...

Some folks think it wouldn't be the first time.
Canada and the US are at loggerheads over where the BSE-infected Holstein found in Washington state might have contracted the disease -- but some say BSE has been in the US food chain for years, with dozens of human victims.

The chief veterinarians for Canada and the US are disagreeing publicly about the likelihood that a Washington cow that tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) came from Canada, even as some evidence suggests BSE from other sources may already have claimed the lives of human victims in the US.

But hey, our meat is innocent until proven guilty, right? Not like Some Peoples' meat.
"We are requesting an indefinite extension of the final comments regarding the opening of the Canadian border to live animal trade until the (U.S. mad cow) investigation is complete," said Terry Stokes, chief executive officer of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

The cow in question was a dairy cow, kept for breeding and for milk. How did she end up in the food stream? Well, see, we give dairy cows a drug that makes them wildly overproduce milk, and we feed them ground up other animals to provide them with the protein they need to keep wildly overproducing milk. (Do an experiment. Go get a bottle of the milk you drink and a bottle of the same variety of organic milk. Hell, do it with eggs - we treat laying chickens the same way.) After a few years, they've started to cannibalize muscle mass, and they have to go. Go where, you may ask?
Meat linked to America's first case of mad cow disease has been sold in four western states, health officials admitted last night.

The US Department of Agriculture has also found that the infected Holstein, cow which was sent for slaughter from Sunny Dene farm in Mabton, Washington State, was part of a herd of 74 imported from Canada in 2001.

While the discovery of the "birth herd" will help officials to trace the source of the disease, the revelation that meat linked to the dairy cow was sold in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada will do little to calm a nervous American public.

Officials also revealed that the Holstein was aged six, older than previously thought. This meant it could, theoretically, have become infected by eating contaminated feed of a kind banned in the US and Canada since 1997, after the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Britain.

Earlier, the White House had sought to calm fears over the threat posed by BSE, telling the public that President Bush was dining on beef at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The government also scrambled to trace and recall any products that could be linked to animals in the same herd as the diseased cow - including bone-meal garden fertiliser and traditional candle tallow...

Ron DeHaven, chief veterinarian for the Agriculture Department, who had come under pressure to trace the source of the infected cow despite America's lack of a national tracking system for cattle, said Canadian records indicated that it was one of a herd of cattle shipped from Alberta into Idaho.

"These animals were all dairy cattle and entered the US only about two or two and a half years ago, so most of them are still likely alive," Dr DeHaven said.

...almost a third of America's beef comes from "retiring" dairy cows, and their bulls, rather than the prime beef herds of Angus steers.

"Mad cow is really a perception issue," Mr Ooms insisted. "If things are done right, it will not get into the food supply anyway."

See, if you don't perceive your brain as a spongy diseased mass of prions, it won't bother you.

What's interesting, though, is that with so little good information to work with, we figured out so quickly where the cow was from.

Or, you know, just maybe we didn't.
...Connecting the infected cow to Canada could deal another blow to the Canadian beef industry, which has struggled since it found its case of mad cow last May. It lost $1 million in beef trade per day as countries cut off beef imports.

Dr. Brian Evans, chief veterinary officer of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, emphasized that the cow's origins have yet to be confirmed. He noted that details on the cow's records in the United States do not match the ones kept in Canada.

Canadian papers show the cow had two calves before it was shipped to the United States, which wasn't documented by U.S. officials.

Also, DeHaven said Canadian papers say the diseased cow was 61/2-years-old -- older than U.S. officials had thought. U.S. records say the cow was 4- or 41/2-years-old.

Because of the discrepancies, Evans cautioned against "a premature conclusion that the definitive animal or definitive birth place has been located."

The age is significant because the animal may have been born before the United States and Canada in 1997 banned certain feed, which is considered the most likely source of infection.

The upshot of all of this is: beef is going to be very cheap around here soon, and you probably want to avoid eating it.

While it is true that only the brain and spinal cord carry the prion, are you feeling confident enough about the system right now to take a chance on none of those things going into your hamburger?

If you do eat beef, I strongly suggest you go for organic or certified Black Angus. Both are exclusively grain-fed. Processed meats are probably an increasingly bad idea.

This would probably also be a damn good time to switch to organic eggs and milk, if you haven't already.

And thank you, Gary Ackerman. You tried.
sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
Above the fold: Yikes. The lead editorial in the New York Times kicks Our Fearless Leader and his party around like a soccer ball. Other interesting Times stories: Dean is just like Bush, except for that minor record of achievement thing; A New Movement Logs on to the Democratic Party and May Reshape It (that's us, kids); and a nice think piece on the Pathological Democratic Anger talking point and what a load of bullshit it is.

&c )


Dec. 28th, 2003 08:08 am
sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
Carolyn Heilbrun killed herself.

She was a tenured professor at Columbia back when that really didn't happen to women. She moonlighted as a writer of mysteries, under a pen name, since tenure in the Ivy Leagues really really didn't happen for women who published frivolously.

You may have heard of her as Amanda Cross.

Dammit. I just read her new book.

edit: I seem to be the last to have heard - [ profile] melymbrosia (which would be a great name for mead, I think) had this almost two months ago.
sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
I got a very nice review over at a group blog (new to me but they know Mad Kane, who's sorta the social lingua franca of left bloggage) called Wilson's Blogmanac, which appears to be a US/Irish/Australian coproduction and which has a positively dizzying array of weird and interesting links which you should go take a look at.

They gave me credit for the name of this blog, though, which I should correct - it was a gift from a playful-minded friend.
sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
You know things have to be pretty damn bad when something like this comes from that Moon fellow's widespread media empire.

Hey, fatal disease in the food supply? We have to check with the agribusiness guys, but we're almost definitely going to do something. At some point. Maybe. Although we really don't have to, but we will anyway.
..."We are looking at any and all appropriate changes we might make to our BSE surveillance program," Ron DeHaven, chief veterinary officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said during a news briefing updating the mad cow investigation. Mad cow is also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE.

Changes being considered include increasing the number of cattle that are screened for the disease and modifying the ban on feeding cattle tissue back to cattle -- a practice that is thought to spread mad cow disease among herds if the feed contains tissue from infected cattle.

DeHaven said the surveillance program in place to date has ensured the safety of the U.S. beef supply, but in light of the case of mad cow found in a cow on a farm in Mabton, Wash., earlier this month, "It's time to relook at that."

Efforts to track down the origin of the cow and about 10,000 pounds of beef that may have contained meat from the infected animal continued on Sunday.

The available information continues to indicate the animal came from Canada, DeHaven said. "We're continuing to work with Canadian officials to verify the trace back," he said, adding that media reports U.S. officials were in disagreement with Canadian authorities about the origins of the animal were unfounded.

"We are not in disagreement with our Canadian colleagues about the data we received," he said. Canadian officials said yesterday it was still too early in the investigation to conclusively determine the animal came from the Alberta province of Canada -- where a case of mad cow was identified in May.

DeHaven said the view is shared by the USDA. Indications about the origin of the animal are preliminary and "still not verified," he said.

However, he went on to say the investigation is focused on tracing down the other 73 head of cattle that came across the U.S border with the infected cow.
In addition, U.S. and Canadian authorities are also conducting DNA testing to confirm the origin of the cow, he said.

The age of the animal is still in question. Initially, it was thought to be 4-1/2 years old based on U.S. records, but Canadian records indicate its age is closer to 6 1/2.

USDA authorities initiated a recall of 10,000 pounds of meat that may have contained tissue from the infected cow earlier this week, and efforts to track it down have revealed it went to grocery stores in eight different states and Guam, said Kenneth Petersen from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Authorities said yesterday the meat had been distributed to Oregon, Washington, Nevada and California. New information indicates limited amounts also went to Alaska, Montana Hawaii, Idaho and Guam.

Some of the meat may have already been consumed, but Petersen said it was safe. "The recall was initiated out of an abundance of caution," he said. "We remain confident in the safety of these beef products ... and will continue to verify the distribution of all products related to recall."

However, surveys from the USDA's own Food Safety and Inspection Service going as far back as 1997 have found bits of spinal cord -which can carry the mad cow infectious agent - in meat processed by machines called advanced meat recovery systems. The infectious agent, known as a prion, can infect humans and cause a fatal brain-wasting condition called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The spinal tissue was thought to have been introduced into the meat in part due to the routine practice of splitting open the animal's spine during processing. Petersen said the Washington cow's spine had been split open prior to removing it from the carcass...

Emphasis, of course, mine.
Remember how the program was all ensuring the safety of the food and stuff?

Not sure how. As Dr. DeHaven himself points out, that's not what the system does.
But the American system was never intended to keep sick animals from reaching the public's refrigerators, said Dr. Ron DeHaven, the Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian.

It is "a surveillance system, not a food safety test," Dr. DeHaven said in an interview on Wednesday.

Statistically, it is meant to ensure finding the disease only if it exists in one in a million animals, and only after slaughter.

He's also not real clear on the role of maternal transmission, possibly because he hasn't had a chance to peruse his own website lately.
December 24, 2003 Excerpts from USDA Briefing. Commentary: Michael Greger, M.D.

USDA Chief Veterinarian Dr. Ron DeHaven: "There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the disease is transmitted from mother to offspring."

On the USDA's own website they list the European Commission's report on maternal transmission which concludes, "The results of all epidemiological studies undertaken to date have been consistent with a rate of direct maternal transmission of approximately 10%..."

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I've been pretty much restricting myself to certified angus beef, grainfed chicken and organic eggs and milk for a while now over this issue.

I just got less tolerant about the occasional hot dog.


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