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Mad cows don't scare me!

By Alan Caruba
web posted June 27, 2005

Just what is the level of risk that you might get Mad Cow Disease? Zero! That's right, the odds of contracting Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) come as close to non-existent as possible. You have a far better chance of being hit by a bolt of lightning.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, the United States Department of Agriculture's chief veterinarian says, "beef is absolutely safe to eat." His colleague, Dr. Ken Peterson of the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service says, "Clinical studies tell us there's virtually zero risk."

That's why mad cows don't scare me, but that doesn't stop groups with names like the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Friends of the Earth, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and more than a dozen others from flooding the media with claims that hamburgers, steaks, veal, and all those other delicious beef products are too dangerous to eat.

Caruba ain't afraid of no cow
Caruba ain't afraid of no cow

Aside from the scare campaigns intended to frighten everyone, the economy suffers when other nations refuse to import US beef products. An article in a June edition of the Houston Chronicle noted that the USDA's delays on the announcement of recent test results, typical of any huge bureaucracy, "sent cattle prices falling and, of course, raised new questions about its ability to protect the public."

It doesn't take much to scare Americans, but the real story of the USDA's and the US Food and Drug Administration's response to a single detected case of BSE back in December 2003 actually demonstrates what a great job they have done in protecting Americans. That cow never entered the food supply.

The system of multiple firewalls maintained by Federal agencies protects Americans from possible exposure to BSE. What made a lot of news was the decision to recall a lot of meat at that time. None of it represented a risk, but no risk was deemed better than even the possibility of any risk. Given the often-wasteful nature of other government agencies, that's what your tax dollars pay for.

Back in 1998 the USDA commissioned the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis to conduct an evaluation of the US regulatory measures to prevent the spread of BSE into our food supply. The Harvard study concluded that, even if BSE slipped into the country, the preventive measures currently in place insured that it would be extremely unlikely that BSE could become established in the US.

Since 1998 the USDA has banned imports of live ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats, and most products from these animals from countries known to have BSE. The subsequent ban on US beef products by these nations appears to be more an act of retribution than safety.

In 1997, the FDA prohibited, with some exceptions, the use of protein derived from mammalian tissues in animal feed intended for cows and other ruminants. And, on January 8, 2004, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued new rules to further enhance safeguards against BSE.

Keep in mind, the US case of BSE found in December 2003 was an imported Canadian cow. Recently, in mid-June, reports that "an older animal tested positive" reignited fears that foreign countries would use this as an excuse to shun US beef. This animal, first tested in November 2004, did not enter the human food or livestock feed supply. Since June 1, 2004, USDA has tested almost 400,000 high-risk cattle for BSE and found no cases. The good news is that whether this animal tests positive or negative is irrelevant because of the safeguards in place that protect both humans and animals from exposure to BSE.

Why aren't you reading or hearing of these protections? Because the mainstream media is salivating while waiting around to write about mad cows disease. Bad news sells newspapers and increases ratings, but the good news is that Americans can enjoy beef products.

That, of course, didn't stop the scaremongers and occasional politician from putting out their news releases in a blizzard of demands for greater safety. If you want to do a little research on your own, I recommend a visit to http://www.mad-cow-facts.com.

You are at higher risk of death driving to the supermarket to fill your cart with some of the finest beef produced anywhere in the world than ever getting mad cows disease.

When one contemplates how filled with risk life is, it is wonderful to contemplate that life expectancy in America these days exceeds 76 years of age. More Americans are living longer than ever in the history of this nation. Part of the reason is that meat is good for you. Your body benefits in many ways from eating meat and your entire digestive system is designed to eat meat.

And America has the safest supply of beef products than anywhere else in the world. A variety of federal agencies insure that safety and so do the cattle producers who utilize every safety measure to protect their herds.

That's why mad cows don't scare me and shouldn't scare you.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2005


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