Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Food for thought
Now that the USDA has moved on to more important things, mad cow is going to drop off the news radar. But nothing has been resolved, and you better think pretty hard before your next hamburger. I asked Dave Louthan how he changed from a happy slaughterer to a food safety crusader. His response was pretty impressive:
I 'm doing this because nobody else is. The North American herd is just full of BSE and the people that buy and eat meat just don't seem to understand that it's going to kill them and their kids. I've suspected there might be some BSE here and there but it didn't become real for me until I got that cow all over me.

On Dec. 24 we got word that the test on that cow came back positive. I thought well alright the USDA will be all over this. The killing will stop until they can set up a nation wide testing program. On Dec. 26 they told us at Vern's they were going to ban down cow slaughter and that would take care of the problem. I was floored, shocked, stunned, scared, and mad all at the same time. That cow was not a downer. This screamed coverup. My face turned red, my ears burned, my heart was pounding. In that exact moment I knew what was happening, I knew who was doing it, I knew why they were doing it, and I knew how to stop them. I marched straight out to the KXLY news crew locked outside the gate and I asked them "What do you want to know". The rest is history. What I didn't count on was the American consumers being so slow witted and gullible that they would just keep munching away at this tainted beef and pretending that it was happening some where else. I've realized now I'm not going to be able to save everybody but maybe I can save some lives.

Remember the big Jack-in-the-Box E-coli outbreak. I read a story in the paper when this was going on. A mother of one of the kids who died had said his last words to her before he went into a coma were "Mommy I love you". That tears my heart out every time I think about it. I MUST TRY TO STOP THAT FROM HAPPENNING AGAIN. So I have been on this 20 hours a day, everyday since Dec. 26. As far as I can tell I have made little or no progress toward getting it fixed. People just don't want to listen. Ann Veneman keeps lying and lying. Her own committee told us we have alot of sick cows here so she fired them and put another committee together made up of Ranchers, Rendering company people, For God's sake she hired a McDonalds company man. Guess what this committee's recomendations are going to be. This is blackhearted, underhanded, criminal. Would somebody please wake up the American people? The USDA is trying to kill you in the name of Profit. Thank you for your time.

Look, I've been chronicling the USDA's follies for long enough that none of this surprises or shocks me. You might even say I've resigned myself to cynicism. But Dave is right, this is a big deal. The USDA's reaction transcends incompetence, it transcends the usual calculated self-interest of the agribusiness executives who run the department. The whole point of everything they have done so far is to deny there is a problem (as Michael Hansen pointed out yesterday). This is calculatedly self-interested because it is a transparent attempt to re-open export markets, and it is incompetent because the surest way to prevent that from happening is a half-assed testing regime. (Better yet: explicitly ignore the recommendations of the international panel that the importing countries might take a little more seriously than Ann Veneman's lastest flight of fancy). But it transcends the usual USDA good-enough-for-government-work approach for 2 reasons:

1. It is based on a lie. If you believe Dave, and it is hard to think of a reason not to (don't forget at least 2 other people from Vern's Meats have confirmed the story), the cow in question was no downer, which is the only kind of cow tested, under both the old and new regimes. In other words, it is only an accident that they caught it, and BSE exists in seemingly healthy cows -- ones that will continued to be slaughtered for human consumption. This also begs the question: if they're only testing downers, and downers are now banned from the food supply, exactly how does the expanded testing improve the situation?

2. More obviously, people are going to die as a result of this. That's a pretty big deal, don't you think?


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