Mad Cow Returns?


New Hampshire health officials are investigating a case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, sometimes called human mad cow disease, which may have spread to surgical patients through contaminated instrumentation. Mad cow in cattle, called BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), is believed to be spread by proteins called prions which are essentially indestructible.

Though prions are not technically “alive” because they lack a nucleus, they manage to reproduce and are almost impossible to “kill.” They are not inactivated by cooking, heat, autoclaves, ammonia, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, phenol, lye, formaldehyde, or radiation, and they remain in the soil, contaminating it for years. Alcohol actually makes prions more transmissible by binding them to metal like surgical instruments. A scientific paper says that after a prion-contaminated electrode was treated with “benzene, 70 percent ethanol, and formaldehyde vapor,” it still transmitted CJD to two patients.” Needless to say, surgeons and morticians approach CJD cases with trepidation.

There is a “small, but definite, risk that the surgeon or others who handle the brain tissue may become accidentally infected by self-inoculation,” says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. That means CJD tests are not always conducted.

US beef imports are still limping back after three US cows were diagnosed with BSE in the early 2000’s. Two were born in the US and one was imported from Canada and slaughtered in Washington state. Within 24 hours of the USDA’s first mad-cow announcement late in 2003, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and 90 other countries banned US beef. The only reason the European Union didn’t ban it was it was already banned for its hormone content. Ninety-eight percent of the United States’ $3 billion overseas beef market evaporated almost overnight thanks to mad cow.

With such money at stake and the domestic beef market to consider, it is not surprising that government officials play down mad cow risks. Even a rumor roils beef futures markets. But a quick look at previous government assurances of public safety during mad cow risks is not comforting.

With the US’s first mad cow, found in Washington state, the government said, “By December 27, 2003, FDA had located all potentially infectious product rendered from the BSE-positive cow in Washington State. This product was disposed of in a landfill in accordance with Federal, State and local regulations” Sounds good except that two major newspaper disagreed.

The Los Angeles Times reported that despite “a voluntary recall aimed at recovering all 10,000 pounds of beef slaughtered at the plant the day the Washington state cow was killed, some meat, which could have contained the Washington cow, was sold to restaurants in several Northern California counties.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported “Alameda and Santa Clara counties have been informed by the state that 11 local restaurants and a market purchased soup bones from the suspect lot, but they have also declined to identify which establishments purchased them.” Eating potential lethal food is none of our business?

Questions lingered about the US’s second and third mad cows, too. The government protected the identities of the ranches that produced them, one in Alabama and one in Texas, and never found the source of the BSE. However both ranches were cleared to produce meat for the public again within a month.

The USDA is pledged to protect both US food consumers and domestic food industries, but when it comes to mad cow, it’s clear who is the priority. Even when Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) has appeared to come in clusters, government officials have called the diseases “sporadic”—meaning they happen by chance and are not from the food. Possible clusters have appeared in New Jersey, Idaho, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas.

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).

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
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
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!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving