Thursday, December 11, 2008

With mad cow disease, the only thing cattlemen have to fear is the press itself

By Martha Rosenberg

“Texas has had one variant CJD case,” the Texas Department of State Health Services Infectious Disease Control Unit assures the public on its web site after a November mad cow scare. “Investigators have concluded that the patient was a former resident of the UK where exposure was likely to have occurred.”

But that’s not what the press says.

When Irene Gore of Palestine, Texas, died in 2001 the Associated Press’ headline was, “Disease Like Mad Cow Kills Woman.”

Her own husband blamed the calf valve that was surgically placed in her heart in 1979. “She had been carrying around bovine material for 20 years,” said Mack Gore.

Parents of Karnack, Texas, Green Beret Sgt. James Alford also believed he had “the ‘variant’ form of CJD caused by eating brains or nervous system tissue from an infected cow,” said the AP when he was diagnosed with CJD in 2003 while in the service. “They worry he may have got it from eating sheep brains locals served to soldiers as an honor in Oman,” said the AP.

Texas, like other states and the federal government dreads an outbreak of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), the human brain disease caused by eating cows with mad cow disease.

Not only can variant CJD spark panic in hospitals, health care settings and mortuaries, it can wipe out the US beef industry in days. Remember what happened to US beef exports when the US’s first mad cow was discovered in Washington State in 2003?

No wonder state and federal health agencies continue to protect the identity of the Texas farm where the first domestically produced steer with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), a.k.a. mad cow disease, was raised in 2005.

Why should a meat operation suffer just because it risked the lives of people who ate its product?

Why shouldn’t it be able to continue selling its wholesome products?

Nor did Texas officials release names when a herd of 1,000 head of cattle “in Texas” were quarantined and 46 carcasses tested for mad cow in 2001 after eating banned animal meal that contained meat and bone. Who ate those wholesome products?

“This is not a public health issue, it is a violation of an FDA rule, and the rule is a precautionary rule,” said Dr. Konrad Eugster, executive director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at the time -- using the same wording officials used earlier this year when meat at risk for mad cow disease from the Hallmark Meat Company was found in federal school lunch programs.

Oops.

Despite the three locations, the Texas Department of State Health Services says they have had more than six CJD cases since 2000. Sporadic CJD comes in clusters? Texas authorities say a November scare about the source of a hospitalized Amarillo woman’s disease is unfounded.

In fact, Ted McCollum, beef cattle specialist with the Amarillo office of Texas AgriLife Extension, was so sure it was nothing, he called the woman’s case “sporadic” before tests were even done -- perhaps to quiet tumbling beef futures markets at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Of course Texas is not the only state in High Denial.

First reports of the death of the former mayor of Buffalo, NY, James D. Griffin, from CJD by local TV stations in May vanished from the Web until resurfacing in November, presumably after the window of hysteria had closed.

But Texas has the parallel problem of venison which is also considered unsafe because of chronic wasting disease, the deer version of mad cow, which Texas spreads through “hundreds of deer-breeding facilities [which have] have sprung up in the state to feed the interest in building bucks with bigger antlers,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

(Why is Texas breeding deer if there is a deer population problem? Good question.)

Like the beef industry, Texas doesn’t want to risk its “multi-billion dollar hunting industry,” as the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission refers to it, because of a mere food scare -- so it assures the public the venison is safe. Especially when the animal doesn’t look sick -- and you bone the meat away from the spinal cord, spleen and brain.

Unfortunately, venison was not safe for Wayne Waterhouse and James Botts of Chetek, Wisconsin, and Roger Marten of Mondovi, Wisconsin, who all developed rare brain diseases after wild game feasts and died in the 1990s.

Nor did it seem to be safe for the “three unusually young patients with CJD who regularly consumed deer or elk meat” written up in an article in the October 2001 issue of the Archives of Neurology.

Nor had any of them visited the UK.

Martha Rosenberg is staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at mrosenberg@evmark.org

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2 comments:

  1. "Why is Texas breeding deer if there is a deer population problem? Good question."

    One of the major revelations I had when I first went vegan is the multitude of deer and elk "farms" - all those years I thought "over population" now I know it's (profit motivated) over "breeding".

    Gosh, how they dupe the public - These truths have to be exposed... Thanks for being one of those voices that do so.

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