Friday, January 02, 2004

scrapie: it's what's for dinner
The USDA is so petrified of me that they waited till I left town before announcing our first mad cow "scare." I know you've all been refreshing every 10 minutes to see what I would tell you to do; but you've probably figured out for yourself that the mad cow was a downer Holstein, which means that you should stop eating shitty beef, for starters. Of course, you have to wonder how many cows have been eating shitty beef...

The Post and the Times have special sections up, if you really want to know more. Let me just explain that this is a good thing, because it forced the USDA to implement some much needed regulations that Republicans shot down in Congress just weeks ago.

Of course, USDA reassurances like this:

For more than a decade, the United States has had in place an aggressive surveillance, detection and response program for BSE. The United States has tested over 20,000 head of cattle for BSE in each of the past two years, 47 times the recommended international standard.
ring a little hollow considering this:
There is no routine testing for the 30-million-plus cattle slaughtered each year - and only about 10% of the 200,000 or so downer cattle slaughtered in 2003 were tested, even though an inability to walk is a known symptom of BSE.
[Nature]. Schlosser has many more sordid details in his Times Op-Ed:
Instead of learning from the mistakes of other countries, America now seems to be repeating them. In the past week much has been made of the "firewall" now protecting American cattle from infection with mad cow disease � the ban on feeding rendered cattle meat or beef byproducts to cattle that was imposed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997. That ban has been cited again and again by Agriculture Department and industry spokesmen as some sort of guarantee that mad cow has not taken hold in the United States. Unfortunately, this firewall may have gaps big enough to let a herd of steer wander through it.

First, the current ban still allows the feeding of cattle blood to young calves � a practice that Stanley Prusiner, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on the proteins that cause mad cow disease, calls "a really stupid idea." More important, the ban on feed has hardly been enforced. A 2001 study by the Government Accounting Office found that one-fifth of American feed and rendering companies that handle prohibited material had no systems in place to prevent the contamination of cattle feed. According to the report, more than a quarter of feed manufacturers in Colorado, one of the top beef-producing states, were not even aware of the F.D.A. measures to prevent mad cow disease, four years after their introduction.

Happy New Year.

Update: Shit, Douglas Gantenbein made the same point in Slate on the same day, and he explained it more too. I guess blogging is superfluous.

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