America’s Mad Cow Crisis


Americans might remember that when the first mad cow was confirmed in the United States in December, 2003, it was major news.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been petitioned for years by lawyers from farm and consumer groups I worked with to stop the cannibal feeding practices that transmit this horrible, always fatal, human and animal dementia.  When the first cow was found in Washington state, the government said it would stop such feeding, and the media went away.  But once the cameras were off and the reporters were gone nothing substantial changed.

In the United States, dairy calves are still taken from their mothers and fed the blood and fat of dead cattle.  This is no doubt a way to infect them with the mad cow disease that has now been incubating here for decades, spread through such animal feeding practices.  No one knows how the latest dairy cow was infected, the fourth confirmed in the United States.  Maybe it was nursed on cow’s blood.  Perhaps it was fed feed containing cattle fat with traces of cattle protein.  Or perhaps there is a mad cow disease in pigs in the United States, which simply has not been found yet, because pigs are not tested for it at all, even though pigs are fed both pig and cattle byproducts, and then the blood, fat and other waste parts of these pigs are fed to cattle.

All these U.S. cattle feeding methods are long banned and illegal in other countries that suffered through but eventually dealt properly with mad cow disease.  Here, rather than stopping the transmission of the disease by stopping the cannibal feeding, mad cow is simply covered up with inadequate testing and very adequate public relations.  US cattle are still fed mammalian blood, fat and protein, risking human deaths and threatening the long term safety of human blood products, simply to provide the U.S. livestock industry with a cheap protein source and a cheap way to get rid of dead animal waste.

I began researching this issue around 1989, long before the disease was confirmed to have jumped from cattle to the people eating them, as announced by the British government in 1996.  In 1997 I co-authored Mad Cow USA, warning that the disease was likely already here and spreading, since the animal cannibalism that caused its outbreak in Britain and spread it to other countries was actually more widespread in the United States than anywhere.

Some years ago responsible U.S. beef companies wanted to test their animals for mad cow disease and label their beef as being disease free, but they were forbidden under penalty of law from doing so.  Only the USDA can test for mad cows in America.    In 2004 and 2005, after two additional mad cows were discovered in Texas and Alabama, the United Sates government declared that obviously mad cow wasn’t much of a problem and gutted it’s anemic testing program.  Today only about 40,000 cattle a year are tested, out of tens of millions slaughtered.  It’s amazing that the California cow was even detected given this pathetic testing program that seems well designed to hide rather than find mad cows.

The prevention of mad cow disease is relatively  simple.  If your country has it, test each animal at slaughter to keep the diseased animals out of the food chain.  Cheap, accurate and easy tests are now available in other countries but illegal here.  Testing cattle both identifies the true extent of the disease, and keeps infected animals from being eaten in your sausage or hamburger.  In this manner countries like Britain, Germany, France and Japan have controlled their problem through testing and a strict ban on cannibal feed.

Once mad cow disease moves into the human population of a country, all bets are off as to what could happen next.  It’s a very slow disease, it develops invisibly over decades in someone who has been infected, and it is always fatal.  We’ll know a lot more in fifty years, but the future looks worrisome.  In Britain people are dying from mad cow disease, people who never consumed infected meat.  They used medical products containing human blood, and that blood was infected because it was from infected people.  There is no test to identify infectious prions, the causal agent, in blood.

Almost none of this information appeared in news stories about the California mad cow.  Instead the headlines and the talking heads fed us the line that the United States fixed this problem long ago, and the fact that only 4 mad cows have been detected so far is proof of our success.   Oprah Winfrey once tried via her talk show to warn about this, way back in 1996,  but Texas cattlemen dragged her and her guest Howard Lyman into court and she had to spend many millions of dollars defending herself from the supposed crime of slandering meat.

Oprah won her case, which was probably unfortunate for the rest of us because had she been convicted the ensuing appeals court trial might have gotten enough attention to wake up Americans to the truth.  Instead Oprah learned her lesson – shut up and you won’t get sued.   Other media learned too that if the government and industry can silence Oprah, they can muzzle anyone. (One of the 4 confirmed U.S. mad cows was later found in Texas, appropriately enough.)

There are a handful of dedicated activists such as Howard Lyman who have been sounding the alarm on this.  They include the ecologist Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union and Dr. Michael Greger, a physician.  Terry Singeltary Sr., whose mom died of a version of the human form of mad cow disease, has been a relentless, unpaid activist on this issue.

Despite their dedicated work,  there is no indication that anything is going to change here in America.  The U.S. government refuses to implement the feed ban and the animal testing necessary.   It doesn’t matter if the President is named Clinton, Bush or Obama because their bureaucrats in the USDA and FDA stay the course and keep the cover up going.  Docile, eating what they are fed, trusting the rancher all the way to the  slaughterhouse.  Is that just the cows, or is it us too?

John Stauber is an independent author and activist.  He founded the Center for Media and Democracy in 1993, retiring in 2009.  Way back in 1997 he co-authored Mad Cow USA.

December 01, 2015
John Wight
From Iraq to Syria: Repeating a Debacle
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: the Left Takes Charge
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Revenge? The Fight for the Boarder
Sami Al-Arian
My Ordeal: One of America’s Many Political Trials Since 9/11
Bilal El-Amine
The Hard Truth About Daesh and How to Fight It
Pete Dolack
Solidarity Instead of Hierarchy as “Common Sense”
Dan Glazebrook
Rhodes Must Fall: Decolonizing Education
Colin Todhunter
Big Oil, TTIP and the Scramble for Europe
Eric Draitser
Terror in Mali: An Attack on China and Russia?
Gilbert Mercier
Will Turkey Be Kicked Out of NATO?
Linn Washington Jr.
Torture and Other Abuses Make Turkey as American as Apple Pie
Randy Shaw
Krugman is Wrong on Gentrification
Raouf Halaby
Time to Speak Out Against Censorship
November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!