More Meat Madness

by Claudius J West

mad_cow_disease_usdaThe really scary part for meat-eating humans in Martha Rosenberg’s Born With A Junk Food Deficiency is when she writes about mad cow disease.

The difference between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), aka mad cow disease, and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) is that the first is what cows get, and the latter is what people get.

“Spongiform” is suggestive of “sponge” because that’s what BSE and vCJD do to brain matter: fill it with holes until it resembles a sponge.

prionsPrions are to blame. Prions are smaller and simpler than cells or even viruses. Like viruses, they are without nuclei—they don’t even have nucleic acids (which are what DNA and RNA are composed of).

Like zombies, they aren’t alive, so they can’t be killed. Without nuclei, they don’t even have figurative heads the way zombies do, nor any other vulnerable bits.

Rosenberg calls prions indestructible, though that’s not entirely true. Prions can be dismantled by bleaches, caustic soda, and strong acids, the equivalent of taking a zombie apart molecule by molecule. Although surgery tools can, eventually, be freed of prions, it is safer to throw them away after contact.

Rosenberg is fully justified in calling prions “indestructible” once they have set up shop inside an organism. There isn’t anything antibiotics or your immune system can do to stop them. You’d stand a better chance of fighting off rabies (because at least one boy is known to have survived full rabies infection).

What are prions?

Prions are protein particles that refold other proteins, like a malicious string of code that rewrites your computer’s programming, or like whacky housemaids who short-sheet all the hotel beds. Prions don’t need to eat or carry on metabolism, so they can hang around for a long time. There’s nothing a prion wants except to run its refolding routine.

The good news for american carnivores is that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported just three cases for vCJD since 1996, and two of those cases, they say, were most likely contracted when the victims were visiting the United Kingdom.


Creekstone Farms

Rosenberg lays out the bad news. In short, don’t be complacent with the safety of our meat supply.

But we are complacent, otherwise we wouldn’t run the risk of contracting vCJD by eating meat.

Carnivores in Japan can eat all the meat they want and feel safe. Why? Because every morsel of meat that goes into a japanese diner’s mouth has been tested for BSE at the slaughterhouse. Why doesn’t our meat here in the U.S. get the same treatment?

U.S. beef suppliers Creekstone Farms sought a competitive edge over other domestic producers by exporting to the japanese market. To be acceptable to the japanese market, Creekstone needed to test its beef for BSE. Creekstone built a testing lab, hired personnel, and intended to test all of its beef. In 2004, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture refused to sell Creekstone enough testing kits. Further, the USDA threatened to fine Creekstone one million dollars for every day they kept the testing lab in operation. W. . .T. . .F. . .? The reasons the USDA gave for their stance was that their policy of random testing was good enough; Creekstone’s actions would (obviously) undermine their policy. Also, because the disease is difficult to detect in younger animals, testing all animals would create a false sense of safety. Again, W. . .T. . .F. . .?

You might be thinking that the powers-that-be, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, wouldn’t want beef suppliers to be bothered with the expense of all that testing in the unfortunate instance that Americans came to agree that Creekstone and the Japanese were onto a good thing and demanded same. The extra cost we are talking about, minus the expense of setting up labs, would be $20 per animal. It doesn’t sound like much, but at around 35 million cattle slaughtered per year (in 2008), that adds up to a tidy sum.

But why not do it when testing costs could be passed on to the consumer for a measly ten cents per pound? I’d gladly pay ten cents per pound to have my meat tested free of BSE, wouldn’t you?

See No Evil, Speak No Evil

See_no_evil 01

Silly monkeys

Let’s ask ourselves what other reasons the powers-that-be might have for resisting testing.

“Within twenty-four hours of the USDA’s mad-cow announcement [on December 23, 2003], Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and ninety other countries banned US beef. (The only reason the European Union didn’t ban it was because it had already banned it for its high use of growth hormones. ) Ninety-eight percent of the United States’ three-billion-dollar overseas beef market evaporated almost overnight.” p. 262

(You have to wonder about the two percent that keep on buying. But, wait: Americans didn’t stop eating meat because of the announcement, did we?)

Most of three billion dollars, lost by U.S. cattle suppliers. It wasn’t mad cow disease that did it. It was the announcement of mad cow disease. You can have all the mad-cows in the world and you won’t lose a penny until someone makes an announcement about it. In any case, you won’t lose three billion dollars.

To the best of my research, just one percent of cattle are tested for BSE. You can’t report what you refuse to notice.

The “Not A Conspiracy”Born-with-a-Junk-Food-Deficiency-How-Flaks-Quacks-and-Hacks-Pimp-the-Public-Health

It seems to me the winds of incentive are blowing strongly in the direction of not finding anything that could cost our economy billions of dollars.

No one needs to conspire in order to protect those billions of dollars; thanks to human nature, the necessary steps happen automatically. It just isn’t in the interests of the powers-that-be to look too closely to find something they really don’t want to find.

Scientists at University College London reported in The Lancet (June 2006) that vCJD, being very much like kuru, the degenerative brain disease cannibals get from eating brain matter, may take up to 50 years to carry out its wicked deeds. If you were a politician responsible for the public health, and you were inclined to go along to get along, would you be worried about a health crisis fifty years into the future? I doubt it.

Creutzfeld, Jakob

Creutzfeld and Jakob

I would like to know just what it takes to distinguish vCJD from Alzheimer’s. With an estimated 5.4 million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s, and plenty more on the way, is it possible that some of those cases may be misdiagnosed? Is there room for vCJD to slip into the party unnoticed?

Luckily for Americans, the CDC has refused to impose a national requirement that physicians and hospitals report cases of the disease. I mean, unluckily.

Don’t worry, because prions are usually passed on by eating brain material. Refuse to eat brain material.

Then again, situations get rather messy when animals are slaughtered. As we’ve seen, it takes more than a wad of Bounty the Quicker-Picker-Upper to dispose of prions. A smattering of invisible prions goes a long way, can contaminate tools and machinery that spread prions to all the meat in back of the line.

“U.S. regulations only partially prohibit the use of animal byproducts in feed. In 1997, regulations prohibited the feeding of mammalian byproducts to ruminants such as cattle and goats. However, the byproducts of ruminants can still be legally fed to pets or other livestock, including pigs and poultry, such as chickens. In addition, it is legal for ruminants to be fed byproducts from some of these animals.” —Wikipedia

We can take heart that those hardworking Americans selling animals byproducts, including chicken feces and feathers, have kept their jobs. Who knew it was such an important economic sector?Momofuku Recipe Ribsteak raw3


Martha Rosenberg has lots more to say about the chemicals that go into meat that make it unhealthy for us. Frankly, I’m too dispirited to go into it. If a brain-rotting disease like vCJD has not put you off your steak, then nothing will. Bon appetit.

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