FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mad Cow Returns?

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

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).

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
Charles R. Larson
A Review of Mary Roach’s “Grunt”
David Yearsley
Stuck in Houston on the Cusp of the Apocalypse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail