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Mad Cow Disease now in the U.S.


alacarte
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I think BSE was a pretty horrific unintended consequence, Steven. Almost any regulation is likely to decrease profit margins. I don't think that would justify a return to the times when there were no safety regulations whatsoever, do you?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Alacarte, dairy cows get eaten too. They just don't tend to become USDA Choice and Prime steaks. But the big hamburger chains and institutional food producers get much of their meat from dairy cows who have outlived their usefulness as milk producers.

"About half of all beef produced from cull dairy cows is processed and merchandised as whole muscle cuts for value added food favorites like fajitas, Philly steaks, deli and fast-food roast beef, marinated specialty items, economy steaks, and more." http://capitaldairy.cas.psu.edu/Column/200...ef_Business.pdf

The dairy industry also supplies most of our veal, in the form of bulls that are culled because they are not needed.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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I think BSE was a pretty horrific unintended consequence, Steven. Almost any regulation is likely to decrease profit margins. I don't think that would justify a return to the times when there were no safety regulations whatsoever, do you?

I think regulations need to be based on science, rational risk assessment, and cost benefit analysis, and not on politics, public perception, and management of hysteria. When performing risk assessment and cost benefit analysis, the potential for unintended consequences should always be a factor that is considered. And I think the jury is still out on what, if anything, caused the BSE outbreak in the UK or anywhere else. You will find plenty of news articles, and maybe even various officials and scientists, saying this particular cow in the US ate tainted feed, which caused it to come down with BSE. But I think it's important to remember that this is a theory.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Your point is well taken, Steven.

Yours too. What I'm trying to say is simply that the law of unintended consequences tends to have a specific meaning in the literature and is mostly used in reference to legislation and regulation. Certainly, however, any action can have unintended consequences. If history judges that feeding meat to cows caused the BSE outbreak, and furthermore that BSE actually caused all those deaths in humans, it will certainly be the case that the decision to feed meat to cows had unintended consequences! And I can't imagine the cost savings from doing that can satisfy even the threshold test of, "This sounds kind of wrong; maybe we shouldn't be doing it." But I suppose, as a city person, I'd think that about a lot of aspects of farming. I'm lucky -- I get to buy my cheap beef in shrink wrap and then I get to armchair quarterback the beef industry. Isn't a free press a wonderful thing?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The free press is a wonderful thing, FG. However, I think there are several things that they are leaving out that we may want to also ponder.

USDA inspection of meat is a wonderful thing. However, USDA inspection of meat is voluntary and for grading purposes only. When it comes to the US meat supply, the USDA has no ability to provide any sort of sanction.

To my knowledge, FDA inspection/certification is much like when the city food inspector comes to a restaurant. Rarely do spot inspections happen. Again, I do not think the FDA has the ability to recall food or provide any real sanction.

The real meat-packing industry that I see as a resident of Nebraska (can anyone say Con-Agra? Tyson? IBP?) is one that hires low-wage, often immigrant--often illegal variety--employees, has a history of locking fire exit doors (and subsequently having employees crushed when el Emigre comes) and cutting deals with local hospitals and doctors for OTJ injuries to be treated off the books. This is an industry bent on profits almost solely. At least from my point of view.

So, the volume meat-packing industry certainly seems to have the will and drive to not care about slaughtering a downer cow for human consumption given the way they consume their workers, which if this caused a 10,000 lb beef recall said meat-packer is certainly a volume packer.

However, the other thing that chaps my hams is the dirty SOB dairy producer (individual or corporate) should have better morals than to sell a downer cow for human consumption. I understand that once a cow stops giving milk that she is eligible for slaughter. I support this. But, I don't support it for animals that stop lactating due to illness.

However, I do not eat sick animals. I do not eat diseased plant material either. It just doesn't make sense to me. To continue the analogy further, the Red Cross does not accept blood from ill humans. This is because disease processes produce toxins. I really don't need to ingest more of them than I do already.

There was a conscious decision to put an obviously diseased animal--with well known symptoms of a highly publicized disease--into the feed trough. I just cannot get around seeing at least 3 ethical failures in the providers of our food supply. I think this was a major failure of the USDA, FDA, and we should be outraged and vote with our dollars, or at least provide evidence of our disgust to the meat-packing industry.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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USDA inspection of meat is a wonderful thing.  However, USDA inspection of meat is voluntary and for grading purposes only.  When it comes to the US meat supply, the USDA has no ability to provide any sort of sanction.

................

So, the volume meat-packing industry certainly seems to have the will and drive to not care about  slaughtering a downer cow for human consumption given the way they consume their workers, which if this caused a 10,000 lb beef recall said meat-packer is certainly a volume packer.

However, the other thing that chaps my hams is the dirty SOB dairy producer (individual or corporate) should have better morals than to sell a downer cow for human consumption.  I understand that once a cow stops giving milk that she is eligible for slaughter.  I support this.  But, I don't support it for animals that stop lactating due to illness.

However, I do not eat sick animals.

J - My friends that have a small slaughterhouse, retail, wholesale meat operation have a USDA inspector on the premises, with his own office, five days a week. He is not there to grade meat. He is there to inspect the slaughtered animals for health and disease. He takes samples of glands, brains, etc. A few years ago he found three pigs with TB that had spread beyond the brain. All three went into the rendering barrels.

My friends do not take downers. If an animal can not walk unassisted off the trailer, it doesn't get in. Similarly, you can not bring in an animal that has been killed (in the field, for instance.) As far as the packer in question being a "volume packer", I read somewhere that they slaughtered about twenty head a day. I wouldn't call that volume packing.

As far as this being a dry cow, it's my understanding that this cow had a problem calving and things went downhill from there. As far as you not eating sick animals, unless you kill your own or have friends that do, you can't be sure.

While I'm at this, I'll say something about feed. Besides having a slaughterhouse my friends raise beef - mostly Angus. Fulton's brother does too. They mix their own feed. It's barley, oats, and corn. While the USDA may have banned animal products in commercial feed that is not to say that growers cannot mix their own feed and some may still be choosing to mix animal by-products into it.

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Hi Fat Guy,

I strongly disagree with your economic assessment of the beef industry with respect to the feed given to the animals and the regulation in the beef industry.

There is no economic argument that allows bad practice. When a food system fails and the public looses faith in the food supply massive economic destruction occurs. In order to maintain faith in the food supply, the whole food supply chain must work to maintain this confidence.

Feed made from cattle was removed from cattle feed because it was suspected to propagate BSE. There was no absolute scientific proof but the logic of feeding disease contaminated food to cattle became so overwhelming the cattle industry and feed industry could not ignore it any more. For decease prevention you cannot wait until overwhelming proof is available before you take reasonable action.

There is no logic in the world that can make sense of feeding any animal cannibalisticly. This is more than just a cultural bias it is a fundamental principle. Cannibalistic feeding practices will allow for diseases to propagate through the species.

As for feeding animals feces, this is completely irresponsible. Almost all decease is passed through the intestinal tract and can be found in feces. There is no justification for feeding any animal feces. I have heard the argument that states protein is just protein, well it is not! The mechanism that is proposed, as the mechanism for BSE is a protein fragment called a prion. Protein is not just protein. Besides the greatest technological advancement that ever occurred in human history was sewage system that removed people from living in sewage. Diseases like cholera almost disappears from view whe you are not living in a cesspool. Why would you invite sewage into your home through the supermarket?

It is essential to have balanced government regulation that is there to provide a good guideline for good producers and to penalize the bad producers. This is an easy thing to say and a hard thing to do but it is essential for the confidence in the food system to maintain confidence.

The economic argument for bad practice will come back and hurt the food industry in the end.

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USDA inspection of meat is a wonderful thing.  However, USDA inspection of meat is voluntary and for grading purposes only.

I believe that statement to be factually incorrect. From the USDA/FSIS site:

"The inspection and grading of meat and poultry are two separate programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Inspection for wholesomeness is mandatory and is paid for out of tax dollars. Grading for quality is voluntary, and the service is requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers/processors." -- (emphasis in original) http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/ingrade.htm

However, the other thing that chaps my hams is the dirty SOB dairy producer (individual or corporate) should have better morals than to sell a downer cow for human consumption. I understand that once a cow stops giving milk that she is eligible for slaughter. I support this. But, I don't support it for animals that stop lactating due to illness.

Again, I do not believe this is a factually accurate assessment of what happened. Every news report I've seen thus far says something substantially similar to the following:

"USDA officials have said the diseased cow joined a Mabton, Wash., farm herd of 4,000 in October 2001 and was culled from the other cows after becoming paralyzed, apparently as a result of calving." -- http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=stor...beefinspections

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Feed made from cattle was removed from cattle feed because it was suspected to propagate BSE.  There was no absolute scientific proof but the logic of feeding disease contaminated food to cattle became so overwhelming the cattle industry and feed industry could not ignore it any more.  For decease prevention you cannot wait until overwhelming proof is available before you take reasonable action.

I agree with that. I believe the US government acted sensibly in 1997, based on the best available science at the time, to implement a reasonable set of regulations banning cannibalistic feeding practices. Indeed, thus far, I haven't found much to fault in the US government's approach to the whole mad cow disease issue over the past 10 years (except in the area of regulations on imports, where I felt the US overreacted -- a decision that may now come back to haunt us; and also with respect to how we've categorized blood donors who have spent time in the UK).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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FG - One of these days you ought to get off the internet and out into the field to get some shit on your boots. I'll see that you get a tour of a small slaughterhouse. Didn't I already say what you just did?

Absolutely. Just backing you up with some citations.

I'm fairly ignorant about the specifics of farming, but I've got plenty of shit on my boots. I've toured probably a dozen small cattle farms in both the US and Canada, and I've interviewed many ranchers and farmers. It's an area of food policy in which I have a lot of interest and have done a fair amount of research and writing. Heck, that photo on my avatar was taken at a farm in Manitoba -- a bison farm I think it was. I still remember the smell of my boots in the van on the drive out of there. It took days to get them clean. Had to pick the last stubborn bits of crusty shit out with a stick.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think it would be timely to get a cattle farmer on a Q&A to discuss the whole process. I imagine many of them are extra busy at this time, but I throw that idea out, anyway.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I still remember the smell of my boots in the van on the drive out of there. It took days to get them clean. Had to pick the last stubborn bits of crusty shit out with a stick.

You must have had Vibram (lug) soles on your boots. They are a bitch to get clean. Get some plain old rubber boots the next time you're out in the field. Wash'em off with a hose or stamp around in a mud puddle. :smile:

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You betcha. Standard-issue yuppie Timberlands with Vibram lug soles. Definitely not real work-boots.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think it would be timely to get a cattle farmer on a Q&A to discuss the whole process. I imagine many of them are extra busy at this time, but I throw that idea out, anyway.

Pan, That's a good idea, but every farmer's got his own idea about how things should be done. The trick would be to find one that's got at least a few decades of experience, with an open mind, no axe to grind, and really doesn't give a shit whether people agree with him/her or not.... and is still in the business. Howard Lyman of Oprah Winfrey fame is not one that I'd suggest.

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A downer cow can mean many, many things. Some dairy breeds, particularly Holstein, are regularly bred to produce a bigger and bigger calf as they age, and end up birthing with a prolasped (sp?) uterus. They get paralysed if the arteries get too much pressure, they break legs. These are not only unfortunate, but expensive. It is my belief that that cow was sent in good faith to the packer, and that the positive on the test was totally unexpected. The dairy has 4000 cows. The incubation indicates to me that there will be more traced back to the mama herd.

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I think it would be timely to get a cattle farmer on a Q&A to discuss the whole process. I imagine many of them are extra busy at this time, but I throw that idea out, anyway.

I am not exactly sure a farmer is what you want. In my area of Nebraska the cattle-growers are somewhat removed from the situation we have seen unfurled in the news.

Caveat: This is my experience in the Sandhills in Nebraska. It is probably not the same elsewhere.

The cattle that are slaughtered are raised by person 1 as a cow-calf pair for a while. Calves are weaned and separated from mother at which time they are tagged, fly-dipped, inoculated for diseases, etc, etc. They are then grown on pasture until they are ready for market.

When they go to market, they are not finished cattle. Typically at market, they get purchased by a feedlot. There they are kept in concentration compared to their earlier roaming days. They are fed grain with additional meal mixed in. Composition of the meal: I don't particularly know. I grew corn and hogs while in my youth. Now, I'm a chemist in the medical field.

Most feedlots already have a futures contract on the animal that they purchase to finish. Most feedlots also have a zillion cattle compared to the ranchers who birthed the calf. I don't know what happens to the futures contract if the cow/steer goes down in the feedlot.

Once left from the feedlot to the packing house (when the futures contract is paid out to the feedlot) the packing house, especially a volume packing house, is certainly going to try to maximize profit. They do not have a personal relationship with the consumer the way I do with my butcher. Nor do they have a relationship with the original cattle-grower. The buyer (one person out of very very many) at the packing house home office has contact with the seller (one person out of very many) at the feedlot, neither of whom get shit on their boots, in my understanding.

We're starting to get to a large number of levels to have things filter through. Now here is the part that I see as the grand failure of the current process: the inspector (who should be there grading every animal IMO, but isn't) is not on the killing floor kicking out animals that are downers. The inspector, when he/she is there, [FG, here is where I come a little cleaner than my not-quite-true statement] is lot- and spot-inspecting meat along the fabrication floor.

Now, there are good reasons to have that type of inspection. But, the inspection before the killing floor is reached is where our system of inspections broke down.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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ahh, just screw it all, and tag all the damn cows like they do in some countries, create one gigantic database for cattle. if the homeland security department is able to create a database to track humans, eh. citizens---of which there are 240million in this country---then a database for the 50 million cattle in this country should be easy.

project funding? just put a 2cent tax on every McD hamburger. over a billion served? hey that's 20 million dollars easy.

all this talk about securing our food system? let's put our money where our mouths are, let's put some real accountability into our food system.

Edited by jeff29992001 (log)
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My friends do not take downers. If an animal can not walk unassisted off the trailer, it doesn't get in. Similarly, you can not bring in an animal that has been killed (in the field, for instance.) As far as the packer in question being a "volume packer", I read somewhere that they slaughtered about twenty head a day. I wouldn't call that volume packing.

I'm a little astonished that a packer who performed a 10,000 lb beef recall due to this animal 1: would take a former dairy cow, and 2: would only slaughter 20 animals a day. I can't see the profit in someone so small taking such low-grade beef. But, given the timeline of everything, they may have only slaughtered 19 on that day. The tests take a while, so for the release to happen around 5:30 p.m. EST, they may have only been slaughtering for less than 1 hour.

FG, a little further in the USDA page they state

Statistical sampling and scientific tests are important tools for today's inspector.

That doesn't cull a downer cow before it's cut up and mixed with 40,000 quarter pounders pre-cheese.

Now, don't get me wrong. I see importance in this reducing Listeria and E coli infection rates in consumer beef. But, those you can destroy by cooking.

With prions, the implicated proteins in BSE infection, the infectious critters are much too stable to be destroyed by normal cooking methods. Thusly, we need different standards of testing to reduce/eliminate the risk of BSE getting in the food supply.

The way I see this best being done is to not let downer cows get killed before testing. That did not happen in this case.

Mabelline, with prolapse downer cows my buddies usually have ground up for hamburger, also. But, it goes into their freezer, or to the dog food plant.

Perhaps I've been spoiled and have just ended up on philosophically different ends of beef processing than some of you. But, I don't see why we shouldn't keep diseased animals out of the food supply. I am unsupportive of this policy:

according to Dr. Ron DeHaven, the USDA chief veterinarian, the U.S. system was never intended to keep sick animals from reaching the public's refrigerators.
from Yahoo's story

My stance is that it is not difficult to spot an ill animal. Those should be separated before the killing floor and tested to some extent before slaughter. There are many rapid (sub 1 hour) and inexpensive tests that can be done for many diseases. There are probably equally as rapid and inexpensive tests for BSE coming down the pike. We should develop and implement those tests to keep our food supply safe.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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project funding? just put a 2cent tax on every McD hamburger. over a billion served? hey that's 20 million dollars easy.

Sounds like a regressive tax to me. If you're going down that road, why not make it progressive and add 50 cents a pound to every prime cut of beef sold in the US? Not that I think that's a good idea, either, but at least it doesn't hit the poor disproportionately.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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I'm a little astonished that a packer who performed a 10,000 lb beef recall due to this animal 1: would take a former dairy cow, and 2: would only slaughter 20 animals a day.  I can't see the profit in someone so small taking such low-grade beef.  But, given the timeline of everything, they may have only slaughtered 19 on that day.  The tests take a while, so for the release to happen around 5:30 p.m. EST, they may have only been slaughtering for less than 1 hour.

"A recall of more than 10,000 pounds of meat was begun at 1:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The recall, which officials said was being ordered out of an abundance of caution, involved 20 carcasses, including that of the infected Holstein, that moved through a Moses Lake, Wash., slaughterhouse on Dec 9. The carcasses were shipped to a deboning facility called Midway Meats in Centralia, Wash., on Dec. 11, said Kenneth Petersen, an official at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service."

Wasnington Post Quote on page 3.

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