Old MacDonald had Mad Cow, E-I-E-I-Oh-oh!

I’m going to step up on my soapbox. I’m going to get political. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

As a human being and a consumer, I am positively outraged and aghast at the United States’ response to mad cow disease. If you stop and think about it, you may have noticed that we haven’t heard much about that in the last year or so. Has it gone away?

Of course not. Do not think for a minute we are protected.

I came across an astonishingly grim article from Vegsource, a vegetarian website that I have keep sporadic tabs on for many years. I am the first to admit this source is biased, but the information presented in the article is reportedly drawn from the USDA’s own reports.

According to presented statistics, between the years of 1998 and 2006, an estimated 777 cows infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (ie – Mad Cow) entered our national food chain undetected. This estimate is derived from examining the number of cattle slaughtered daily, the amount inspected, and cases found.

Last year, despite (or because of) growing concern of BSE risk in the United States, the USDA decided to SCALE BACK on mad cow testing, from 1000 cattle daily to 110 a day. Keep in mind over 70,000 cattle are slaughtered in this country every single day. The majority of these are processed in huge processing plants, where thousands upon thousands of animals become the various cuts of meat enjoyed by millions of Americans. The potential for contamination is ridiculously high; particularly among ground beef which, depending on the processing facility, may contain proteins from 300-1000 different cows in a typical patty. Please also note that while the United States was testing approximately 1% of their cattle, Japan and a number of European countries test 100% of their cattle. It isn’t like it cannot be done.

While the practice which creates mad cow — feeding cattle back to cattle — has been banned in this country since 1997, the USDA lags far behind in inspecting and ensuring this practice is not continued. The law does not prohibit the feeding of one species to another – for instance, downed cows may be fed to chickens, and these chickens can in turn be fed back to cattle. Given this disease can transfer from bovine to homo sapien, who’s to determine it cannot be passed to avian species as well? In a time of lagging profits due to concerns of cholesterol, saturated fat, and BSE, who is to say that a number of feedlots would not continue to sneak in some free food to cut operating costs? It isn’t like USDA inspectors are making spontaneous surprise visits.

Are you concerned yet?

If you consume beef, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and your family. It is absolutely imperative in this culture to practice what I call “defensive eating” in order to stay healthy and well because the industry and the government will not be doing this for us. Below are some steps you can take to prevent contamination:

  1. Consume 100% grass-fed, free range cattle. These cattle are the healthiest because they consume a natural diet they can process (corn is difficult to process, increases digestive disorders and the risk of illness in cows). Know your sources (Thundering Hooves and Oregon Country Beef are a couple) and become intimately aware of where your food comes from.
  2. If you can’t find grass-fed, look for cows which have been fed a 100% vegetarian diet. This may be corn or another grain, but keep in mind newspaper is “vegetarian”, and is a common filler in animal feed.
  3. Grind your own beef. The best way to not ingest 300 cows in a hamburger patty is to have a butcher grind up a cut of beef before your eyes.
  4. Eat less beef. Experiment with meatless meals every few days and see how it feels. Most people know at least one vegetarian – ask for a favorite recipe or idea for lunches and dinners.
  5. Ask Questions. Be a detective. Ask your server where the beef comes from – not the supplier – the RANCH. Look that ranch up online. Just because the menu assures “all-natural beef” doesn’t mean a darn thing. Does the ranch disclose how the cattle are housed, fed, and slaughtered? If not, it probably isn’t pretty. Call them and ask more questions. Your concern will prompt change within the industry – especially among smaller ranches. Don’t underestimate the power of being an informed consumer.

Good luck out there, my fellow defensive eaters. We have a lot of homework to do!

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