Dismissing Mad Cow as a “Random Mutation”


After the discovery of a mad cow in its herds, Brazil is experiencing what the US went through in the early 2000’s when three mad cows were found in its food supply: rapid, across the board boycotts of its exports. Japan, China, South Africa, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have banned imports of beef from Brazil since its first suspected mad cow case came to light in December.

Mad cow disease is a fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), which is called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cows, scrapie in sheep and goats and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk. In humans, it is a terminal neurological brain disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

In December 2003, when a mad cow was discovered in the US, imported from Canada and slaughtered in Moses Lake, Washington, 98 percent of the US’ $3 billion overseas beef market evaporated. Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and 90 other countries banned US beef almost overnight. The only reason the European Union didn’t ban US beef was it was already banned for its high use of growth hormones.

The US spent most of 2004 trying to woo back its beef sales to Japan who replaced US beef with imports from Australia, New Zealand, and South America. But one month after the country finally agreed to start importing younger cattle only (which are thought to pose less mad cow risk) the unthinkable happened: a US shipment to Japan from Atlantic Veal and Lamb of New York contained veal with the backbone still attached.  Spinal material is banned because it poses more mad cow risk and Japan immediately reimposed its boycott. Atlantic Veal and Lamb was subsequently accused of welfare abuses to animals.

A USDA audit designed to reassure Japan did the opposite. It found nine other meatpackers and slaughterhouses were not in noncompliance with removing animal parts that pose mad cow risk. Published reports said the gigantic Swift & Co. plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, was banned from shipping beef to Japan altogether. “The U.S. government does not take the issue seriously enough,” wrote Eiji Hirose of Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri about mad cow risks. And almost ten years later, Japan has still not fully restored US beef imports. Nor has China.

Since even one case of vCJD in humans from eating infected meat–variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease–threatens domestic and global beef markets, when suspected cases have arisen in the US, officials often assure the public the diseases are sporadic or hereditary CJD which originate spontaneously and are not from eating meat.  Assurances often come before the fact since diagnosis can only be made from a brain biopsy, usually after death. But if CJD is something that “just happens,” the public is greatly reassured and federal officials don’t have investigate the beef supply–the ranches, packinghouses, feed suppliers and even stores and restaurants.

Since April, there is another harm reduction technique that is working to safeguard threatened beef markets. Faced with two mad cow scares this year, both US and Brazil authorities have debuted the concept of “atypical mad cow disease.” Spontaneously-erupting mad cow that has no known cause and may be a genetic mutation has seldom if ever been reported before. But it now seems the new, preferred diagnosis.

A mad cow found in April at a slaughter facility near Fresno whose identity officials protected (identities of mad cow producing ranches in Texas and Alabama were also protected) was “just a random mutation that can happen every once in a great while in an animal,” said Bruce Akey, director of the New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University. “Random mutations go on in nature all the time.” Brazil officials are similarly saying their mad cow suffered from “atypical mad cow disease.”

Designating cases of mad cow as a “spontaneous” and “atypical” certainly frees officials from lengthy, expensive investigations into the cows’ herd mates, offspring, ranches, slaughterhouses and most importantly feed. It certainly salvages threatened international and domestic beef markets and keep people eating US beef. It certainly quiets news stories when herds start to exhibit mad cow disease.

But is it true?

The complete history of BSE/mad cow disease in the US is found in Martha Rosenberg’s acclaimed food and drug expose Born with a Junk Food Deficiency (Prometheus 2012)

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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!