Mad Cow Disease: What the Meat Industries Don't Want You to Know

Dr. Richard Lacey, the University of Leeds microbiologist who warned about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) infecting humans in the U.K. said, "It is possible that there is no mad cow disease in the U.S.A., but I believe it's more likely there is, but not detected yet.” 

In 1993, Dr. C.J. Gibbs, former chair of the World Health Organization's BSE investigation and head of the NIH's brain studies laboratory, said, "Do I believe BSE is here [in the U.S.]? Of course I do.”

The cow who was found to have BSE in Washington was more than 6 years old. If she—like 99.5 percent of chickens, pigs, turkeys, and cows in the U.S.—had been slaughtered before she was 5 years old, we would not have found the disease, although she would still have had it.

Two studies on Alzheimer's victims showed that 5.5 percent and 13 percent, respectively, of patients who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's had, in fact, been suffering from the human variant of mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases states that one out of every million people gets CJD, thereby giving the United States about 270 cases, but if even 1 percent of the 4 million Alzheimer's patients in the U.S. actually have CJD, we would have 40,000 cases, not 270.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not protecting U.S. consumers.

The genie has left the bottle. It is better to take steps now than not to take them, but they are about 10 years too late. The infected cow's brain was presumably ground up and fed to chickens and pigs who could then be fed to other cows—practices that are banned in Europe because they allow transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) to jump between species.

European scientists recognize that TSEs can jump between species, and thus, their countries have banned the feeding of animals to animals, but in the U.S., it remains a legal and universal practice to feed pigs, chickens, turkey, and fish back to one another, turning natural herbivores into not just carnivores, but cannibals. Dr. Paul Brown, medical director for the U.S. Public Health Service, explicitly says that pigs and chickens could pass TSEs to humans.

It is also legal in the U.S. to feed ruminants (i.e., elk, deer, cows, and sheep) to pigs, chickens, turkeys, and fish and then to feed those animals back to cows and sheep, who are natural herbivores. Since we know that sheep, deer, and elk in the U.S. have TSEs, we know that we are continuing to do exactly what caused this disease in the first place.

It is also legal and common for the blood of cows and sheep to be fed to other cows and sheep (as well as to all the other animals mentioned above). Humans in the U.S. cannot give blood if they’ve spent three months or more in the U.K. since 1980, but cows can still eat other cows' blood in this country.

The one pitiful step taken by the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent mad cow disease in the U.S., the widely popularized 1997 ban on feeding ruminants to ruminants, has not been fully implemented. In fact, a 2001 FDA investigation found that literally hundreds of feed suppliers were in violation of the ban.

To avoid transmitting mad cow disease to humans, it is illegal in the United Kingdom to feed any animal who is older than 30 months to humans. In the U.S., on the other hand, almost all dairy cows, who are the source of about 40 percent of U.S. hamburger meat, are older than 30 months of age when they are slaughtered.

Grossly inadequate tests for TSEs in animals and humans virtually guarantee that we will not find many cases in the U.S.

Pigs, chickens, turkeys, and fish are not tested at all, despite the fact that they are fed ground up deer, elk, cows, and sheep—as well as other pigs, chickens, and fish. These animals are then, in turn, ground up and fed to cows and sheep.

Only 20,000 cows were tested last year—out of the 40 million slaughtered annually, including 130,000 or more downed cattle. (Europe and Japan test all downed cattle, as recommended by the World Health Organization). And the USDA cannot even produce the results of the few tests that were conducted. The infected cow was more than 6 years old. More than 99.5 percent of animals slaughtered last year were younger than 5 years of age. Considering the long incubation period, it's a fluke that BSE was found in this cow. No cows are tested on U.S. farms, where many sick animals die.

The tests done in the U.S. involve examining the animals' brains with a microscope. Considering the long incubation period for the disease (10 to 16 years is the latest estimate for humans) and the fact that no test catches the disease until it is in its very late stages, it could be a widespread problem in the U.S., and we wouldn't even know it. The test used by the USDA is inadequate, which is why the sample from the infected Washington cow had to be sent to the U.K. to verify that it was BSE-positive.

The CDC has not made CJD a notifiable disease, so the disease cannot be tracked. If a disproportionate number of people were dying of this disease, we would not even know it. There is some evidence that, in fact, we do have an epidemic of CJD here, yet the CDC refuses to track it.

Specific lies of the USDA (with thanks to Dr. Michael Greger)

The USDA and the meat industry say that BSE cannot be transferred from mother to calf, but in fact, evidence indicates that it can be. The USDA's Web site lists the European Commission's official report on maternal transmission, which concludes, “'The results of all epidemiological studies undertaken to date have been consistent with a rate of maternal risk enhancement of approximately 10%.”

The USDA has said that it tests all downed cattle. In fact, there are about 130,000 downed cattle in the U.S., and only a small fraction are tested.

The USDA and the meat industry say that the U.S. has banned feeding ruminants to ruminants. In fact, in 2002, the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded, “'BSE may be silently incubating somewhere in the United States. If that is the case, then FDA's failure to enforce the feed ban may already have placed U.S. herds and, in turn, the human food supply at risk. FDA has no clear enforcement strategy for dealing with firms that do not obey the feed ban. ... Moreover, FDA has been using inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable data to track and oversee feed ban compliance.” The report can be downloaded at

The USDA and the meat industry say that science indicates that muscle can't harbor the infectious agent in TSEs. This is not true, according to the CDC and WHO, both of which suggest that all parts of any contaminated animal pose a risk. Even the USDA's Web site states, “'Epidemiological and case studies have not revealed a common risk factor among the cases of vCJD. According to the SEAC [the U.K.'s Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee], all victims were reported to have eaten beef or beef products in the last 10 years, but none had knowingly eaten brain material. Furthermore, Stanley Prusiner, the scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions, describes the levels of prions in muscle as “'quite high.” Follow-up studies in Germany, published May 2003, confirm Prusiner's findings, and in 2003, the New England Journal of Medicine published research indicating that deadly prions were found in eight of the 32 muscle samples of human CJD victims. The authors declare that the prions were “'prevalent in skeletal muscle tissue.”

Final points: Watching abused farmed animals on TV and seeing pictures in the news turns people vegetarian (as much out of empathy for the animals as out of fear of getting the disease).

Mad cow disease opens a window onto the complete and total disdain that factory farms have for the needs and natural lives of animals raised for food. Modern “'farmers” pump animals full of drugs to make them grow more quickly, feed natural herbivores the blood and dead bodies of their own species, and cram animals into unnatural living conditions where they are deprived of their every natural desire. Animals today are Frankenstein animals: Chickens are bred so that their upper bodies grow more than six times as quickly as they normally would, and some cows produce as much as 20 times as much milk as they would in a natural situation. On factory farms, animals' bodies are mutilated without painkillers. At a fraction of their natural life spans, they are shipped to slaughter. The journey often takes many hours, and on the way, animals endure weather extremes and are denied food and water. Once they reach the slaughterhouse, many are fully conscious as their throats are slit, their limbs are hacked off, and their skin is ripped from their bodies. Before mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease, most people had not thought very much about how meat reached their tables, but these plagues forced people to think about these issues and made many consider vegetarianism.

The public needs to understand that if they are eating meat, they are supporting cruelty to animals—cruelty so severe that if it were done to cats or dogs, it would be illegal, and these “'farmers,” truck drivers, and slaughterhouse owners would be thrown in prison. Outbreaks of diseases such as mad cow, SARS and foot-and-mouth disease are the predictable results of cruelly treating animals, rather than seeing them for the sensitive beings that they are.

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Mad Cow Disease