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Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
It starts out with an attention-grabbing title (that I shamelessly borrowed), then leads in with an equally interesting opening sentence, sprinkled with some thought-provoking paragraphs that make you want to see where he is going with this:
If you really want to understand mad cow disease, just think of sex and AIDS, the eternity of nuclear waste and playing the lottery.
Now add a hamburger patty to the mix, and grind it all together.
Want to take a bite out of that?
No, I don't think so. After he bashes the USDA for siding with the industry, instead of concerning themselves with the safety of the public food supply, he goes on to make these points:
The fact is, when it comes to mad cow, the government really doesn't know a whole lot. But if the powers that be admitted that, everyone would panic.
Well, isn't that indeed what it all boils down to? Worrying about what this might do to the economy? Everyone in the industry, especially Tyson, has been rapidly seeking to distance themselves from the taint of this scare. "Hey, it wasn't my product!" Well, maybe not this time, but what about the next? Hmmm??? The point is not really which company it happened to this time, but what conditions exist in the industry, (yes, even at Tyson, perhaps, especially there if we use my experiences recounted here to judge their "standard business practices" and "policies" by) that create the very situations that allow things like this to happen.
The fact of the matter is that if the administration hadn't blocked the legislation barring the slaughter of downers, this probably would not have happened. Because of sheer greed, because of the desire to squeeze the last bit of profits out of a suffering, dying animal, people are put at risk every day. People sicken and die every year, many of them children. It is really just a roll of the proverbial dice whether the meat you buy is safe to eat or not.
Check out this analogy made in the article and see if it doesn't make you think, at least a little bit:
Consider that just about every time the USDA has learned something new about the case, the situation has become far worse than anyone thought it was.
The "isolated" case of one cow has become the case of the cow and her two offspring.
The states originally believed to be selling the diseased cow's meat are Washington and Oregon, with a bit of California and Nevada thrown in.
Now you can add Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and Montana, not to mention the U.S. territory of Guam. "There is no such thing as an isolated case," said my wife, Kathy, when she heard about the meat recall. "It wasn't just one cow that got the disease. There are other cattle involved."
My wife works for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and is considered the resident mad cow expert there.
She's been warning me about mad cow for years
Fortunately, I became a vegetarian when we got married years ago, so I don't have to deal with an "I told you so."
For me, becoming a vegetarian was easy. I abstain from meat so my wife won't abstain from me. It works.
But, believe me, red meat tempts me more than a redhead.
Still, when it comes to mad cow, I'm covered. Since I don't eat it, I don't have to worry. I'm like the Apple computer folks who gloat when all the PC types get viruses that can't put a dent in a Mac.
But I'm concerned about all of you.
Because you may not get the big picture.
For example, when the USDA announced the meat recall over the weekend, Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an agency veterinarian, tried to reassure the public. He essentially told people to relax when he said to the Associated Press, "The recalled meat represents essentially zero risk to consumers."
A Harvard researcher was even more mealy mouthed: "There's definitely cause for concern in this," David Ropiek of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis was quoted as saying in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But not real alarm."
But here's why you should feel more alarmed.
Sex and the Single Patty
Mad cow is turning meat eating into something like sex during the height of the AIDS scare. You remember those days, when people were really concerned about their partner's sexual history, and sleeping with your partner was considered tantamount to sleeping with all of his or her former partners.
Now, when you eat a piece of meat, you're going to want to do a background check on it.
You'll want to know something more about your meat than what wine goes best with it.
Mad cow is spread from mother to offspring, so you'll need to know your meat's lineage. Did the mother of the meat have the disease? Did any siblings have the disease? Of course, since it takes four to six years to incubate, you may not be able to find out.
Scoping out your meat's family tree isn't as easy as it sounds. You won't know very much unless the cow's neural tissue has been tested. And the USDA has screened no more than 20,000 cattle out of the 37 million slaughtered each year in the United States.
After the first cases were discovered in the United Kingdom, that country tested virtually every cow slaughtered.
"How can [the USDA] possibly know anything when most cows are tested before showing symptoms, and then they test such a small number?" my wife asked me.
If you don't have much luck with your meat's family tree, try to find out what it's been eating, and with whom.
Your cow shouldn't be on Atkins. Cows are natural herbivores. And, yet, the beef industry has a nasty habit of feeding its cows the ground remains of sheep and other cows.
That's how we got into this fine mess in the first place. When sheep, raised for wool, were ground up in England and used as cattle feed as a cost-cutting measure, some of the sheep passed on a disease called scrapie that developed into bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE (mad cow's official name).
"We did something abnormal to save money, and that's what caused this whole thing," said my wife.
Even though that happened in the 1980s, it took until 1997 for the United States to ban the ruminant feeding practice.
Two years ago, the U.S. Government Accounting Office produced a damning report showing a widespread violation of the law: Nearly one-third of food manufacturers were still feeding ground livestock to livestock, and almost 20 percent of them weren't even aware of the law.
Mad Cow Is Forever
Once you find out what your meat ate, try to discover how it was slaughtered.
In news stories, you'll hear how the disease is spread by a brain protein known as a prion. The real problem with the prion is that you can't wash it off. It is forever. Like nuclear waste.
When a blade is used to slaughter an animal with mad cow, the blade becomes the vehicle by which the disease is spread.
One mad cow can spoil the whole herd.
When the United Kingdom went through its mad cow mess, it not only had to bury the dead animals that had gotten sick but also had to change its butchering methods.
Maybe the United States could have the meat lover's version of a nuclear-waste-disposal site, like Yucca Mountain?
Finally, you'll hear researchers say that although BSE is such a scary illness, the risk of getting it is so small that it's "as close to zero as science will ever get," according to Harvard's David Ropiek.
But, essentially, he's admitting it's like winning the lottery. Only better.
"Even a one-in-a-million chance is too high, if you're the only one," Ropiek said.
So, do you want to take the chance?
Nope. Not me. After mentioning that giving up meat as a resolution would be a great way to ring in the new year, he leaves us with the following comments:
What cholesterol and heart disease haven't done to push you over the top, perhaps mad cow will.
At least, get to know your meat with the same precaution you use with a potential sex partner.
Eating meat can be just as deadly as sex. And it's definitely more fattening.
He neglected to mention that it isn't nearly as much fun, either! And, you know, I think I saw something a while back making a possible link to impotence from consuming too much meat - some kind of circulation problem, no doubt. Well, I don't have to worry about that, either, since I don't eat all those artery-clogging fats found in meat. Yuck! I can't believe the difference in my health since I quit eating meat. Seriously. Big, BIG difference. I have so much more energy, and (as I have told you before) my blood pressure lowered down into the normal range.
I can't imagine if I had to do all this research before I felt safe enough to eat the food on my plate. Isn't that supposed to be the government's job? Don't we pay taxes for that? Thought so. Then why are they allowing thi$ to happen and bending over to ki$$ the $hoe$ of the factory farming indu$try?
I think it would have been cheaper in the long run to have done it right the first time. The rest of the developed world has already properly decided that the safety of the people is more important than money. Why can't we? The best we can do is to point our fingers at our neighbors to the north and say, "Well, they didn't do much after their incident, so why should we?
Okaaaay. That makes me feel much better, especially as everyone knows that cattle move back and forth across that border all the time, mixing and mingling with one another, then being ground up together at the relatively small number of slaughter plants we have to process all these unfortunate animals.
I have also heard the argument, "The rest of the world just tests too much," referring to Europe and Japan,who wisely decided it was worth the small amount of extra money (pennies per pound - I read $3 per head) to keep their public food supply safer. Well, you didn't see it being their countries in the headlines about this in the past week, now did you? Perhaps because of all that testing? It makes me wonder, with so little testing going on here in this country, what has been missed?????
I am also wondering how many cows it would take to classify this as a threat to public safety by the administration. They are trying to pass it off as no big deal. Well, I disagree. I think it is a VERY BIG DEAL!!!
I wonder what would be a big deal to them? How about 5 cows, 10 cows, 100 cows? What about people? Would it take 5, 10, 100 - or just one? I bet it would be quite a big deal to that one. Especially if it was one of their children that got sick. I bet it would be a big deal then, don't you?
Stay informed. Be careful. Make conscious choices based on balanced research, not propaganda. I have done this and continue to read and learn every day. Then, I share my findings with everyone to check out for themselves.
If Anne Veneman thinks it is safe enough to feed her family beef over the holidays, that is her choice. But, it does not impress me. What would give me pause was if that beef she was feeding to her family was from the recalled meat. You know, the stuff they "voluntarily" recalled, even though they believe there is "essentially a zero risk" that it would infect anyone? If it is so safe, then why recall it? Why not just serve it right up on a plate and take a big ol' bite right there on camera for the American public to see? I dare you to do that, Ann Veneman. I certainly bet you wouldn't give it to your kids. What about your dog?
What about the parts sent for rendering into animal feed? Of course, we KNOW that had to be infected horribly and was also recalled, but can anyone positively say that absolutely not a drop of that stuff touched anything that touched meat being shipped out anywhere else? POSITIVELY?
Want to bet your life on it?
What about the lives of your kids?
Didn't think so.