You’ve probably heard this already on the news. For the first time in 6 years, Mad Cow Disease has resurfaced in a single cow in central California. Earlier this week, the USDA notified the press. Eating meat from a mad cow leads to a fatal human brain disease. In the last 2o years, about 200 cases of human deaths have been attributed to Mad Cow.
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is the proper scientific name for a disease that is a direct result of our modern factory farming practices. Instead of letting cows eat grass, we feed them animal byproducts (the stuff humans can’t or won’t eat). In the UK, where mad cow was first discovered in the 1990′s, the disease was attributed to serving cow brains and nerve to tissues to other cows. Cannibalism, if you will.
Since then, the British authorities have taken strict measures on two fronts:
1. limiting what can and can’t be fed to cows.
2. creating an elaborate tracking system that can identify every head of cattle from birth to death. That way, when a disease is discovered in one animal, it is much easier to check up on the cohort of animals it spent time with during its lifetime. This is especially important with BSE, which can take years from infection to outbreak.
And here in the US?
Only 4 cases have ever been reported. Not a high priority for the USDA, which regulates food safety when it comes to meat. This, despite massive restrictions on imports to Asian countries of our beef, with damages in billions of dollars to the US cattle industry over the past 15 years.
Although we have also changed the diet regiment of factory fed bovines here in the US, there is much less animal testing here than in other countries. The USDA tests about 40,000 slaughtered cows a year for various pathogens, but that’s a small fraction of the millions that are processed for meat. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “The United States has first-world resources and technology but a third-world animal identification system”
What do you think the beef industry should be doing to better serve and protect consumers, while keeping the cost of meat low?