Beef! It’s What’s for Dinner. Or is It?
By Chet Day
Health & Beyond
The other evening as a cool front drifted through our state, I jogged along Highway 70 in the rolling mountains of NE Tennessee and passed a herd of grazing cattle. Feeding on thick, green pasture grass, one cow by the fence next to the two-lane blacktop glanced my way, rolled its big brown eyes upward, almost in amusement, mooed once, and then resumed chewing.
I couldnt help but chuckle aloud as I took a deep breath of the crisp fall air and thanked God for feeling so vibrantly alive and for enjoying a moment of communion with one of His creatures.
As I continued along the shoulder of the highway, reflecting on my moment with the cow, I asked myself for what seemed like the millionth time how I could have spent more than forty oblivious years of my life ignoring the butchering of such creatures so I could stuff my face with hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs, and the other concoctions we carve and steal from the bodies of these peaceful animals.
This encounter with the cow provoked many thoughts because I had spent a good part of the week researching the August recall of 25 million pounds ofE.coli contaminated hamburger that left the Hudson Foods Plant in Columbus, Nebraska, back in June. And that research had led me to other facts about the beef and meat industry that disturbed me even more.
When I swapped my computer for my jogging shoes that evening, Id already spent a day and a half trying to write this opinion piece, but the more I wrote the more off-center I drifted. Usually a fairly objective and controlled person who keeps most things of the world a good arms length away from the core of my being, I felt as though Id been physically, emotionally, mentally, and morally assaulted by what Id learned regarding Americas beef and animal feed industries.
Originally, Id planned this editorial to summarize the facts of the biggest beef recall in history and to then let the reader arrive at a conclusion. But every time I tried to write objectively, I kept coming up blank... and that rarely happens because I almost always have a deep well of words from which to draw.
So this morning I begin again, as James Joyce wrote in Finnegans Wake, and perhaps this time I can find the words and feelings to communicate a great wrong being committed in our country.
You know, these days, so many of us, in our hectic, busy lives, see so much in shades of gray. I can close my eyes to things that should infuriate my moral sense, and, most of the time, for my own peace, I shrug, stand mute, and go about my business, tucking the corners of some outrage under the mattress of the bed in the farthest guest room of my mind.
And yet this week I learned some facts about the American food industry that revealed to me what I consider something so morally, medically, and intuitively wrong that I want to shout what Ive discovered to every person on earth.
Oh my, I am so close to this, so oddly attached emotionally. Only a few short months away from my fiftieth birthday, I experience the off-centering turmoil of a great wrong, and I feel helpless before it. An awakening has occurred, and it races through my thoughts and emotions with the current of a storm-swollen river.
In the first weeks of August, 1997, Hudson Foods Company admitted to the U.S. government that it needed to recall 20,000 pounds of hamburger that was contaminated with E.coli bacteria. Shortly thereafter the USDA upped the recall to 1.2 millions pounds.
By the time Princess Dis death swept the meat story from the news, Hudson had recalled 25 million pounds of contaminated flesh and had sold the Columbus, Nebraska, plant that had released the infected hamburger.
Even though the USDA sent into the Columbus packing facility their so-called SWAT team of expert inspectors about mid-August, by the first of September, according to U.S. News and World Report, these crack inspectors could only conclude that a jumbled record system and questionable procedures made it difficult, if not impossible, to determine how E.coli bacteria had tainted the hamburger patties fashioned there.
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
Oh well, so it goes, I thought when I read the conclusion of the inspectors. I dont like it, but their final report that nobody would ever know what really happened didnt surprise me, and, besides, everything worked out okay. The company recalled the bad burgers, only 17 people got sick -- and none of them died -- and Hudson Foods sold the offending packing house to solve the problem. (According to a Hudson press release, IBP, the company that purchased the plant, is the worlds premier producer of fresh beef, pork and related allied products.) I guess by selling the Columbus facility, both Hudson and IBP get around the questionable procedures identified but not specified by the government swat team. I figured, well, the politicians and pundits like me will squawk for a few days and then the status quo will reassert itself and all will return to normal and nothing will be done to ensure the safety of beef for the consumer.
The politicians did get in a few self-serving licks. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said in mid-August on CNN's "Late Edition with Frank Sesno" when the Hudson beef recall still dominated the news, I've sent the SWAT team out to this particular plant because I want to send a signal throughout the industry that we will not tolerate practices which are incompatible with public health.
Oh yeah, everybody believes that the government absolutely wont tolerate any practices which are incompatible with public health.
But Americas memory has the attention span of a five-year old Saturday morning cartoon addict. Only a few zealots remember the politicians like Glickman spouting similar platitudes the last meat recall back in 1993 when four children died and hundreds of people fell seriously ill after eating contaminated hamburgers at fast food joints in the northwest.
After those deaths and all kinds of chest-pounding and legalistic saber rattling, our government took serious, important steps to protect the public welfare. Do you remember? In a public relations campaign waged by the authorities with the help of the nightly news and the establishment press, the USDA taught those who continued to eat meat after the 1993 contamination to cook their burgers until the center reached a certain temperature to kill possible germs and other contaminants.
You see, because the meat industry is BIG business and because reforms cost BIG money, nothing really changed as a result of the 1993 outbreak of E.coli, and I doubt that much will change now unless Americans wake up and refuse to purchase the so-called beef being sold.
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
Before the Princess Di story took over the news, though, I did figure another self-interest group would use this latest beef recall as a rationale to start telling us that we must irradiate the meat they grind in Americas flesh processing plants before it ends up in home refrigerators.
Interestingly, my prediction came true. "Irradiation offers the best chance of substantially reducing bacterial and parasitic contamination in food," Michael Osterholm, state epidemiologist for Minnesota, said in the September 1 edition of Newsweek. "It is the critical missing piece in reducing the risk of illness."
Well, this kind of talk didnt stay in the news very long because the media decided it needed to spend about ten days covering the death of Princess Di, but, nonetheless, Id like to ask Michael Osterholm and the rest of the irradiating proponents what else happens at cellular level to foods that they bombard with their radiation.
If radiation destroys bacteria, what does it do to the nutrient factors in foods that keep our immune systems functioning? Why do we have so many new autoimmune diseases here at the end of the century? Funny, those who want to process our foods to keep them safe for us rarely want to talk about the side effects of their treatments. Why dont they tell us what heat, steam, caustic chemicals, radiation, and genetic manipulation do to the nutrients in the foods they adulterate for safety sake?
It scares me when I reflect on the similarities between the arguments presented for food safety by the meat industries and similar scientific and statistical proof presented for human health by establishment medicine. But the experts dont have much to say about side effects, do they?
And these side effects of our disease and food industries may well be maiming and killing people!
Of course Im not alone in objecting to bombarding any kind of food with radiation. "We're not big fans of irradiation," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety expert at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It raises environmental and worker safety issues, and strips nutrients and affects food taste, she said.
But then one can always find some university expert wholl argue the other side: "Some people still believe the stuff glows in the dark," Gary Smith, head of the Center for Red Meat Safety at Colorado State University, told a Reuters reporter on August 31. Beyond skeptical consumers, it would be a logistical feat to irradiate the some 13 billion pounds of hamburger Americans eat each year, he said, adding, "We've lost our sense of safety that people had 50 years ago. I'm very concerned that irradiation be seen as the magic bullet because the only magic bullet is to cook it and cook it until nothing survives."
In other words, Professor Smith, you want us to cremate our sirloin before putting it in our mouths, right? You want us to forget those happy days of telling the waitress when we order our 16-ounce T-bone steak, Rare, maam, I want to hear that ole steak moo when I stick my fork in it.
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
As long as you burn it to cinders before placing it on the dinner china.
Heck, some meat eater friend of Professor Smiths might add, so what if a few people get a belly ache once in a while? Big deal! Millions of us enjoy our meat at every meal. The beef industry has a great record of public safety. Shoot, were safer eating a burger than we are flying in an airplane. And you dont get much safer than that.
According to a Reuters health story, foodborne illnesses sicken 33 million people each year and kill 9,000 in the United States alone. Scientists agree the worst foodborne bacteria may be E.coli:0157, first identified in 1982. It causes diarrhea, severe cramps, dehydration, and in some cases, kidney failure. E.coli bacteria appears naturally in the intestines of cattle. If intestinal material comes into contact with meat during processing, it can contaminate the meat. Researchers believe E.coli contamination arises during the slaughtering and packing process, when fecal matter from the intestines of cattle, where the bacteria naturally occurs, comes into contact with beef.
You probably think, as I used to during my flesh-eating days, that it would be rare for intestinal content to come into contact with the meat we eventually eat. If youve never given any thought to meat processing, and most of us dont because we like to think our meat comes in nicely wrapped packages and not from some poor butchered cow, you probably assume the whole process is sterile and kind.
If you maintain that assumption, youve made a grave error.
Dave Gifford, a student at Trinity College, visited a slaughterhouse and wrote about his experience:
I entered the kill shed through a short, tunnel-like hall through which I could see what I soon learned was the third butchering station. The kill shed consisted of one room in which a number of operations are performed by one or two of six butchers at four stations along the length of the room. In the kill shed there is also a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector who examines parts of every animal who goes through the kill shed.
The first station is the killing station. It is worked by one man whose job is to herd the animal into the killing stall, slaughter him or her, and begin the butchering process. This stage of the process takes about ten minutes for each animal, and begins with the opening of a heavy steel door that separates the killing stall from the waiting chute. The man working this station must then go into a corridor adjacent to the waiting chute, and prod his next victim into the killing stall with a high-voltage electric cattle prod.
This is the most time-consuming part of the operation because the cattle are fully aware of what lies ahead, and are determined not to enter the killing stall. The physical symptoms of terror were painfully evident on the faces of each and every animal I saw either in the actual killing stall or in the waiting chute.
During the 40 seconds to a minute that each animal had to wait in the killing stall before losing consciousness, the terror became visibly more intense. The animal could smell the blood, and see his or her former companions in various stages of dismemberment. During the last few seconds of life, the animal thrashes about the stall as much as its confines allow.
All four of the cows whose deaths I witnessed strained frantically, futilely, and pathetically towards the ceiling -- the only direction that was not blocked by a steel door. Death came in the form of a pneumatic nail gun that was placed against their heads and fired.
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
Ever since I saw a black and white television documentary filmed entirely in a meat packing house, Id been appalled by the idea of killing cows so I could eat the flesh from their dead bodies. Appalled, yes, but not enough to stop eating meat until five years ago. And even then I shamefully admit I didnt do it for ethical reasons but for health reasons.
So I dont throw stones at meat eaters since I belonged to their ranks for more than 40 years.
But Im ready to hurl boulders at the individuals currently producing the meat that goes down Americas throat every day.
The many horrors of the meat industry came together for me when I read a story by Michael Satchell and Stephen J. Hedges in the September 1 issue of U.S. News and World Report.
From this story and my other research, I realized that we had a new food chain in the United States.
Growing up in the fifties and sixties, I came to believe that God sends the rain which feeds the grass which feeds the cattle who provide us with our meat and milk and cheese. I learned that we need plenty of fresh milk and good meat every day of our lives to build strong healthy bodies. I believed the truth of this simple story but chose, as most of us do, to not ask or think about how the meat got from the nice cow to the nice plate on my table.
Today, public relation campaigns and catchy slogans notwithstanding, we have a new food chain, which goes something like this: For reasons of efficiency and economics, many cattlemen feed their animals anything.
And I mean anything.
Satchell and Hedges tell us Agricultural refuse such as corncobs, rice hulls, fruit and vegetable peelings, along with grain byproducts from retail production of baked goods, cereals, and beer, have long been used to fatten cattle.
Okay. Since I dont consume meat anyway that didnt bother me too much, though Id prefer to see cattle eating only natural foods like grains and grasses.
The authors continued, In addition, some 40 billion pounds a year of slaughterhouse wastes like blood, bone, and viscera, as well as the remains of millions of euthanised cats and dogs passed along by veterinarians and animal shelters, are rendered annually into livestock feed--in the process turning cattle and hogs, which are natural herbivores, into unwitting carnivores.
This information knocked me flat. Not wanting to believe it, I got on the Internet to seek confirmation. A few searches later, I realized that cattle have been eating the rendered remains of other cattle for years.
Many of Americas once proud cattlemen have not only turned herbivores into carnivores, but theyve also turned their cows into cannibals!
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
You may not be familiar with the idea of rendering plants. I only recently educated myself about this dead animal and discarded flesh disposal industry. And yet rendering represents a mult-billion dollar business, and these facilities operate 24 hours a day just about everywhere in America, and theyve been in operation for years. Funny that so few of us have ever heard of them...
Lets take a look at an article entitled The Dark Side of Recycling from the Fall, 1990, Earth Island Journal to learn about rendering plants:
The rendering plant floor is piled high with raw product: thousands of dead dogs and cats; heads and hooves from cattle, sheep, pigs and horses; whole skunks; rats and raccoons --all waiting to be processed. In the 90-degree heat, the piles of dead animals seem to have a life of their own as millions of maggots swarm over the carcasses.
Two bandanna-masked men begin operating Bobcat mini-dozers, loading the raw into a 10-foot-deep stainless-steel pit. They are undocumented workers from Mexico, doing a dirty job. A giant auger-grinder at the bottom of the pit begins to turn. Popping bones and squeezing flesh are sounds from a nightmare you will never forget.
Rendering is the process of cooking raw animal material to remove the moisture and fat. The rendering plant works like a giant kitchen. The cooker, or chef, blends the raw product in order to maintain a certain ratio between the carcasses of pets, livestock, poultry waste and supermarket rejects.
Once the mass is cut into small pieces, it is transported to another auger for fine shredding. It is then cooked at 280 degrees for one hour. The continuous batch cooking process goes on non-stop 24 hours a day, seven days a week as meat is melted away from bones in the hot 'soup. During this cooking process, the soup produces a fat of yellow grease or tallow that rises to the top and is skimmed off. The cooked meat and bone are sent to a hammermill press, which squeezes out the remaining moisture and pulverizes the product into a gritty powder. Shaker screens sift out excess hair and large bone chips. Once the batch is finished, all that is left is yellow grease, meal and bone meal.
As the American Journal of Veterinary Research explains, this recycled meat and bone meal is used as a source of protein and other nutrients in the diets of poultry and swine and in pet foods, with lesser amounts used in the feed of cattle and sheep. Animal fat is also used in animal feeds as an energy source. Every day, hundreds of rendering plants across the United States truck millions of tons of this food enhancer to poultry ranches, cattle feed-lots, dairy and hog farms, fish-feed plants and pet-food manufacturers where it is mixed with other ingredients to feed the billions of animals that meat-eating humans, in turn, will eat.
Rendering plants have different specialties. The labeling designation of a particular run of product is defined by the predominance of a specific animal. Some product-label names are: meat meal, meat by-products, poultry meal, poultry by-products, fish meal, fish oil, yellow grease, tallow, beef fat and chicken fat.
Rendering plants perform one of the most valuable functions on Earth: they recycle used animals. Without rendering, our cities would run the risk of becoming filled with diseased and rotting carcasses. Fatal viruses and bacteria would spread uncontrolled through the population.
Death is the number one commodity in a business where the demand for feed ingredients far exceeds the supply of raw product. But this elaborate system of food production through waste management has evolved into a recycling nightmare. Rendering plants are unavoidably processing toxic waste.
The dead animals (the raw) are accompanied by a whole menu of unwanted ingredients. Pesticides enter the rendering process via poisoned livestock, and fish oil laced with bootleg DDT and other organophosphates that have accumulated in the bodies of West Coast mackerel and tuna.
Because animals are frequently shoved into the pit with flea collars still attached organophosphate-containing insecticides get into the mix as well. The insecticide Dursban arrives in the form of cattle insecticide patches. Pharmaceuticals leak from antibiotics in livestock, and euthanasia drugs given to pets are also included. Heavy metals accumulate from a variety of sources: pet ID tags, surgical pins and needles.
Even plastic winds up going into the pit. Unsold supermarket meats, chicken and fish arrive in styrofoam trays and shrink wrap. No one has time for the tedious chore of unwrapping thousands of rejected meat-packs. More plastic is added to the pits with the arrival of cattle ID tags, plastic insecticide patches and the green plastic bags containing pets from veterinarians.
Skyrocketing labor costs are one of the economic factors forcing the corporate flesh-peddlers to cheat. It is far too costly for plant personnel to cut off flea collars or unwrap spoiled T-bone steaks. Every week, millions of packages of plastic-wrapped meat go through the rendering process and become one of the unwanted ingredients in animal feed.
The most environmentally conscious state in the nation is California, where spot checks and testing of animal-feed ingredients happen at the wobbly rate of once every two-and-a-half months. The supervising state agency is the Department of Agriculture's Feed and Fertilizer Division of Compliance. Its main objective is to test for truth in labeling: does the percentage of protein, phosphorous and calcium match the rendering plant's claims; do the percentages meet state requirements? However, testing for pesticides and other toxins in animal feeds is incomplete.
In California, eight field inspectors regulate a rendering industry that feeds the animals that the state's 30 million people eat. When it comes to rendering plants, however, state and federal agencies have maintained a hands-off policy, allowing the industry to become largely self-regulating. An article in the February 1990 issue of Render, the industry's national magazine, suggests that the self-regulation of certain contamination problems is not working.
One policing program that is already off to a shaky start is the Salmonella Education/Reduction Program, formed under the auspices of the National Renderers Association. The magazine states that ...unless US and Canadian renderers get their heads out of the ground and demonstrate that they are serious about reducing the incidence of salmonella contamination in their animal protein meals, they are going to be faced with... new and overly stringent government regulations.
So far, the voluntary self-testing program is not working. According to the magazine, ...only about 20 per cent of the total number of companies producing or blending animal protein meal have signed up for the program... Far fewer have done the actual testing.
The American Journal of Veterinary Research conducted an investigation into the persistence of sodium phenobarbital in the carcasses of euthanised animals at a typical rendering plant in 1985 and found ... virtually no degradation of the drug occurred during this conventional rendering process... and that ...the potential of other chemical contaminants (e.g., heavy metals, pesticides and environmental toxicants, which may cause massive herd mortalities) to degrade during conventional rendering needs further evaluation.
Renderers are the silent partners in our food chain. But worried insiders are beginning to talk, and one word that continues to come up in conversation is pesticides. The possibility of petrochemically poisoning our food has become a reality. Government agencies and the industry itself are allowing toxins to be inadvertently recycled from the streets and supermarket shelves into the food chain. As we break into a new decade of increasingly complex pollution problems, we must rethink our place in the environment. No longer hunters, we are becoming the victims of our technologically altered food chain.
The possibility of petrochemically poisoning our food has become a reality.
Have you ever encountered anything quite as gruesome as what you just read?
Do you wonder how much rendered flesh gets fed to the animals that people will eventually eat?
A 1991 USDA report states that "approximately 7.9 billion pounds of meat and bone meal, blood meal and feather meal [were] produced in 1983." Of that amount, 34 percent was used in pet food, 34 percent in poultry feed, 20 percent in pig food and ten percent in beef and dairy cattle feed. Scientific American cites a dramatic rise in the use of animal protein in commercial dairy feed since 1987.
You want something more recent, something closer to home?
How about this March 1996 report from the North Carolina Cooperative Extensive Service? In an article entitled Greene County Animal Mortality Collection Ramp we learn: With North Carolina ranking in the top seven states in the U.S. in the production of turkeys, hogs, broilers and layers, it has been recently estimated that over 85,000 tons of farm poultry and swine mortality must be disposed of annually. To meet this disposal need, in 1989 the Green County Livestock Producers Association began using an animal carcass collection site. Livestock producers bring the animal and bird carcasses to the ramp and drop them into a water-tight truck with separate compartments for poultry and other livestock parked behind the retaining wall.
A local farmer, contracted by the Livestock Association, hauls the animal and bird mortality to the rendering plant each day and maintains the collection site. The rendering plant pays the Livestock Association each week based on the current prices of meat, bone, and feather meal, and fat. During the first 16 weeks of operation in 1989, over 1 million pounds or a weekly average of 65,000 pounds of animal and bird mortality were collected and sent to the rendering plant. During the spring of 1991, weekly collections of swine mortality averaged 30,000 to 44,000 pounds worth 2.4 to 2.7 cents per pound at the rendering plant, while poultry mortality (primarily turkeys) average 15,000 to 33,000 pounds per week worth 0.2 to 0.4 cents per pound. Total gross returns to the Livestock Association from the rendering plant purchase of the animal and bird carcasses during this period averaged $1,000 per week which after covering all expenses resulted in a profit.
Initial discussions for site planning included a truck wash and disinfect basin for producers leaving the site to prevent disease transfer. Since construction funds were limited, however, this wash pad was not built. After 2.5 years of operation, no disease problems have been reported. Producers who have a major outbreak of disease within their herd or flock are strongly cautioned not to use the collection ramp until they have the disease under control.
The end result of this very successful project is that Greene County livestock and poultry producers have a convenient, safe, and economical alternative to dispose of animal and bird mortality while their Livestock Association enjoys a profitable endeavor.
It appears that many people will do anything these days if it enjoys a profitable endeavor. But of course we wont stoop so low as to use some of the profit to build a disinfectant basin.
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
Forget the morality of all this for a moment and shunt aside the ethics, and lets just consider possible health reasons for not feeding rendered remains to the animals that eventually become human fare.
As Im sure youve noted by now, government pretty much gives free rein to the cattle associations, to the rendering plants, to the meat industry, to everyone who has a profit motive linked to our food chain. Same way in England, according to John Stauber and Sheldon Ramptons article, The US Mad Cow Cover-Up. Stauber and Sheldon write, For seven years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the multi-billion dollar animal livestock industry have cooperated in a PR cover-up of huge health risks to U.S. animals and people.
For ten years preceding the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in Britain, the USDA had scientific evidence that a version of the disease existed in U.S. cattle. Yet government and industry have failed, even at this late date, to ban the practice of cow cannibalism.
The practice, prohibited in Britain for years, continues throughout the U.S. It is, in fact, more widespread in the U.S. than in any other country. And, as USDA researcher Dr. Mark Robinson points out, the rendering processes employed in the UK and the US are virtually the same. The USDA confirms that, for decades, scrapie-infected sheep have passed through U.S. rendering plants.
After a decade of official denials, the British government finally admitted that Mad Cow Disease -- responsible for the deaths of more than 160,000 British cattle -- appeared to have migrated into humans who ate contaminated beef and are now dying of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).
The British governments acknowledgment that infected beef was the likely cause of death for ten unusually young CJD victims came as grim vindication to Dr. Richard Lacey, a leading British microbiologist whose increasingly desperate warnings that the BSE threat was more serious than AIDS have been officially dismissed for the past six years.
Dr. Lacey predicts that the governments failure to act sooner, combined with the diseases long latency period, could produce 5,000-500,000 human deaths per year in Britain sometime after the year 2000.
Internal documents and PR plans obtained by PR Watch, via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) investigation, show that the U.S. government has sought to protect the economic interests of the powerful meat and animal feed industries, while denying the existence of risks to animals and human.
In a 1991 internal PR document, the USDA advised officials to use the technical name for the disease. The term Mad Cow Disease has been detrimental, the document explained. We should emphasize the need to use the term bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE.
Mad Cow Disease apparently became an epidemic in England as a result of rendering plants -- factories that melt carcasses and waste meat products into protein used in animal feeds, cosmetics, nutritional supplements, medicines, and other products. As little as one teaspoon of feed derived from infected cattle can transmit the disease to another cow.
In the U.S., plants process billions of pounds of protein from dead cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and other animals into animal feed each year.
In 1990, the USDA and FDA convened a committee dominated by the cattle, dairy, sheep, and rendering industries. They launched a voluntary ban on feeding rendered cows to cows. This was simply a PR maneuver. A similar voluntary ban failed miserably in Britain. The feeding of ruminant protein to cows continues at a rate of millions of pounds per day.
U.S. government and industry representatives still insist that Mad Cow Disease does not exist in the U.S. Unfortunately, this party line is based on wishful thinking, rather than scientific proof.
A major U.S. outbreak seems plausible, even likely, unless the U.S. government acts swiftly to outlaw the practice of feeding rendered by-product protein to cows.
Has a meat-borne form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease already spread into the U.S. human population? Despite denials from the federal government, a number of statistically alarming clusters of CJD already have been reported in the U.S.
In the past, victims of CJD have been misdiagnosed with Alzheimers -- a disease afflicting some four million Americans. The beginnings of a CJD epidemic could, therefore, already be hidden within the countrys huge population of dementia patients.
As usual, though, in this country, the bottom line boils down to money and not the public good. In another USDA internal document from 1991, entitled BSE Rendering Policy, we read: There is speculation... that a spongiform encephalopathy agent is present in the U.S. cattle population. The report concluded that prohibit[ing] the feeding of sheep and cattle--origin protein products to all ruminants... minimizes the risk of BSE. The disadvantage is that the cost to the livestock and rendering industries would be substantial.
In Michael Gregers groundbreaking article, The Public Health Implications of Mad Cow Disease, we learn: With scientists like Marsh saying The exact same thing could happen over here as happened in Britain, and with beef consumption already at a thirty-year low, the USDA is justifiably worried. There was even a complaint filed with the FDA concerning a woman with CJD who had been taking a dietary supplement containing bovine tissue. Like England, we have been feeding dead cows to living cows for decades. In fact, here in the U.S. a minimum of 14% of the remains of rendered cattle is fed to other cows (another 50% goes on the pig and chicken menu). In 1989 alone, almost 800 million pounds of processed animal were fed to beef and dairy cattle. Partly because of this, the USDA has conceded that the potential risk of amplification of the BSE agent is much greater in the United States than in Britain.
... Four million Americans are affected by Alzheimers; it is the fourth leading cause of death among the elderly in the U.S. Epidemiological evidence suggests that people eating meat more than four times a week for a prolonged period have a three times higher chance of suffering a dementia than long-time vegetarians. A preliminary 1989 study at the University of Pennsylvania showed that over 5% of patients diagnosed with Alzheimers were actually dying from a human spongiform encephalopathy. That means that as many as 200,000 people in the United States may already be dying from mad cow disease each year.
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
On September 9th, as I prepared the final draft of this article, an Associated Press story revealed that Two Kentucky doctors last month reported a possible link between eating squirrel brains and the rare and deadly human variety of mad-cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
Dr. Eric Weisman, a behavioral neurologist who practices in rural western Kentucky, reported in the distinguished British medical journal The Lancet that he has treated 11 people for Creutzfeldt-Jakob in four years, and all had eaten squirrel brains at some time. Six of the victims, ranging in age from 56 to 78, have died.
When I read this story, I immediately wondered, How many of these men have eaten beef at some time? And I again wondered, How many people in America who have been diagnosed with Alzheimers actually have Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease?
Interestingly enough, the doctors who reported the outbreak ... said many questions remain, including how the squirrels would contract the disease, since they do not eat meat. Even more interesting, ... no squirrel brains have actually been examined for the disease.
I dont know about you, but if I thought the animals my fellow community members were eating were making them sick, Id examine some squirrel brains before presenting my paper for publication. Wouldnt you?
Squirrel brains! Uh, whats for dinner?
To return to the recalled hamburger for a moment, E.coli is not the most prevalent food contaminant. Salmonella in meat, poultry, dairy products and eggs causes as many as four million infections each year, according to the USDA. Another bacterial pathogen is campylobacter, which has been linked to raw or undercooked chicken.
"The consumer has to realize that there is no way that we can create a pathogen-free food supply,'' said Tom Carr, a professor of animal science at the University of Illinois. "The consumer is the last line of protection. The processor can do all these positive things, but if the food is not properly handled at home, there could be food-borne illness.''
In a Public Health Advisory on August 21 from the USDA, Officials from the Food Safety and Inspection Service are starting today to check with Hudson clients to be sure inventory that was produced on June 6 is returned to a Hudson warehouse in VanBuren, Ark. FSIS will collect the samples from returned product to determine the extent of the possible contamination and will supervise destruction of the product, as requested by Hudson. Hudson has not notified FSIS how they intend to destroy the product, which could be burned or rendered.
When I read this advisory, I decided to go to the source, so I sent an e-mail to customer service at the Hudson web site, asking what they planned to do with the 25 millions pounds of contaminated beef. Much to my surprise -- Im used to being ignored when I ask companies questions like this -- I received the following prompt reply, I have been told that we are picking up all of the product and storing it at a storage facility in the Ft. Smith area (where they may do further testing, etc.) then the product will be sold to dog food companies. Sorry, thats all I know thus far. Have a good day.
Gee, its kind of hard to have a good day when youre writing about contaminated beef and rendering plants and whats going into whats sitting on the supper plate of most Americans every night.
Just dont open that can of dog food for your pet without thinking for a moment about whats in it.
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
One final indignity. The cattle that so many folks eat every day not only fatten on the flesh of their fellows, but they also feed on the manure of other species. Feast your eyes on this information from the U.S. News and World Report: Chicken manure in particular, which costs from $15 to $45 a ton in comparison with up to $125 a ton for alfalfa, is increasingly used as feed by cattle farmers despite possible health risks to consumers... more and more farmers are turning to chicken manure as a cheaper alternative to grains and hay.
The same story quotes farmer Lamar Carter, who feeds to his 800 head of cattle a witches brew of soybean bran and chicken manure: My cows are as fat as butterballs. If I didnt have chicken litter, Id have to sell half my herd. Other feeds too expensive.
Farmer Carter doesnt mention this, but reporters Satchell and Hedges do: Chicken manure often contains campylobacter and salmonella bacteria, which can cause disease in humans, as well as intestinal parasites, veterinary drug residues, and toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. These bacteria and toxins are passed on to the cattle and can be cycled to humans who eat beef contaminated by feces during slaughter.
If theyre not being fed on rendered by-products or chicken manure, according to the Satchell and Hedges article, Animal-feed manufacturers and farmers also have begun using or trying out dehydrated food garbage, fats emptied from restaurant fryers and grease traps, cement-kiln dust, even newsprint and cardboard that are derived from plant cellulose. Researchers in addition have experimented with cattle and hog manure, and human sewage sludge. New feed additives are being introduced so fast, says Daniel McChesney, head of animal-feed safety for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that the government cannot keep pace with new regulations to cover them.
Cattle and hog manure and human sewage sludge as possible foods for the animals eaten by human beings.
Words fail me.
Originally I had planned to spend a couple of hours writing a thousand word editorial on the Hudson Beef Recall.
But one search for information led to another and that one led to two more and before I knew it, I had on my desk a thick pile of articles and commentaries and official documents. Each of these separate threads kept leading me to a bigger story.
A week after starting this project, I feel as though Ive barely scratched the surface of the truths that lie buried beneath the mounds of manure and rendered bone meal and meat by-products and the other abominations that serve as fodder for all too many of the animals that will end up in all too many of the bodies of our brothers and sisters.
I dont know that I can continue to research this story. I dont know that I can stand to learn what else lies beneath the fancy food commercials and the big lies that we have accepted for so long.
Sitting here at my laptop computer and pondering the possibility of continuing to try to wrestle all of this story to the ground, I cant help but think of the words of Kurtz, the character in Joseph Conrads The Heart of Darkness who looked beneath the surface, who viewed too much, who ultimately saw nothing but the horror, the horror.
Earlier last week, as if God had provided me with a counterbalance to the disgusting realities I was learning about the meat and animal feed industries, I read and studied and thought about an article on inner calm written by Mildred Norman, a woman who gave up her name, her possessions, and her typical life to walk across American for peace. She did just that for more than 25,000 miles.
Peace Pilgrim, as she called herself, taught that a single individual could make a difference, and I share her belief. I only hope that each person who reads this article will talk about it with one other individual. Perhaps xerox or print a copy and pass that copy on to someone else or leave it on a table at work or in a doctors waiting room. If enough of us do this, maybe we can start a grassroots movement to begin to put an end to the nightmare realities of the contemporary meat and animal feed industries. Each of us as an individual can make a difference.
Leafing through a self-styled purveyors of premium foods catalog the other day, I couldnt help but squirm when I read one of the headlines on the slick magazine: Our premium meats are aged to perfection, cut to order, and rushed to you fresh -- never frozen -- for a taste youll celebrate.
We fill our bodies, our God-given temples, with the dead flesh of animals that have been fed on the dead flesh and manure of other animals for a taste youll celebrate.
And we wonder why were sick in this country?
Beef! Its whats for dinner.
Not at my house.
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