Don't Worry, Our Meat Supply Is All Going To Be Okay!

I'm so reassured when the USDA and the beef industry tell me I don't have to worry about getting a horrible brain-wasting disease because their random inspection actually caught one of the potential carriers: There appears to be no risk to

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I'm so reassured when the USDA and the beef industry tell me I don't have to worry about getting a horrible brain-wasting disease because their random inspection actually caught one of the potential carriers:

There appears to be no risk to humans from the dairy cow discovered in California this week to have “mad cow” disease. That’s according to the US Department of Agriculture and the beef industry.

Mad cow, known scientifically as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is believed to be carried by animal feed made from cattle brains or spinal cord. Such feed is now banned in the US and other countries, but cases of BSE have continued to appear around the world.

The World Health Organization has called for the exclusion of the riskiest tissues (eyes and intestines as well as brains and spinal cord) from all animal feed to protect against the spread of mad cow disease.

Stanley Prusiner, who received the 1997 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the protein associated with BSE has said the US should ban poultry waste in cattle feed as well.

“Unfortunately, the United States still allows the feeding of some of these potentially risky tissues to people, pigs, pets, poultry, and fish,” warns Michael Greger, director of public health and animal agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States.

“Cattle remains are still fed to chickens, for example, and the poultry litter (floor wastes that include the feces and spilled feed) is fed back to cows,” he writes on his Huffington Post blog. “In this way, prions – the infectious proteins that cause mad cow disease – may continue to be cycled back into cattle feed and complete the cow ‘cannibalism’ circuit blamed for the spread of the disease.”

Part of the problem, according to critics, is that only a tiny fraction of slaughtered cows (40,000 out of 35 million a year) are tested for BSE.

In this week’s instance, the cow (which was to be rendered into products other than meat for human consumption) had been unable to stand – a “downer” cow. This raised suspicions, so the cow was tested for BSE. This showed that the current inspection system works, say beef industry supporters.

According to the USDA, the infected animal discovered this week had “atypical BSE,” which means it most likely did not get the disease from eating infected cattle feed. Still, the USDA is tracking feed sources as a possible cause.

And of course, the fact that we're getting ready to outsource poultry inspections won't affect things in the least!

Under the planned expansion, the agency would hand over these duties to poultry plant employees, while the inspectors would spend more time evaluating the plant’s bacteria-testing and other safety programs. The department has run the pilot program in 20 poultry plants since 1998.

But many of the agency’s inspectors said the proposal puts consumers at risk for diseases like those caused by salmonella. About 1.2 million cases of food poisoning are caused by salmonella each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In affidavits given to the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit legal-assistance group for government whistle-blowers, several inspectors who work at plants where the pilot program is in place said the main problem is that they are removed from positions on the assembly line and put at the end of the line, which makes it impossible for them to spot diseased birds.

The inspectors, whose names were redacted, said they had observed numerous instances of poultry plant employees allowing birds contaminated with fecal matter or other substances to pass. And even when the employees try to remove diseased birds, they face reprimands, the inspectors said.

But I'm sure it'll all work out somehow! After all, the USDA press release announcing the plan said, "In a shift that will save money for businesses and taxpayers while improving food safety" says cutting corners will make things better AND safer, so I'm going to take their word for it.

About Susie Madrak

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