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    The Cure for Mad Cow…

    .. is marijuana?

    Scientists at the National Centre for Scientific Research in France, have found that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, may prevent the development of prion diseases, the most well-known being “mad cow disease” or BSE (bovine spongiforme enzephalopathy).

    It is believed that the BSE may be transmitted to humans, where it is known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The condition is often fatal and spreads easily.

    “The latest study adds to the huge amount of scientific evidence supporting the medicinal use of cannabis,” said NORML spokesperson Chris Fowlie.

    “Green MP Metiria Turei’s bill to allow the medicinal use of cannabis should be supported by any MP with a clear head. Unfortunately most politicians act like mad cows whenever cannabis is mentioned.”

    So, if you’re eating steak, but are concerned about all of those pesky prions…make sure you bring out your old gravity bong.

    Mad Cow and the Unknown Variable

    Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (Mad cow disease) in the United States beef industry is one of those issues that either seem to either promote outrage or indifference, depending upon the individual. I certainly fall into the former category, but not because I believe that we are at immediate risk from the disease. Rather, my outrage comes from the fact that recent testing was so badly managed, that we still don’t know whether Mad Cow is an issue here in the States, and the cattle industry (with an able assist from the Government) seems determined to keep us that way.

    After the first discovery of Mad Cow in Washington State, way back in 2003, we were promised that the cattle industry would up it’s testing to determine how prevalent BSE was. The USDA started a program to test half of the nation’s 450,000 “downerˮ cows, or cows that could not walk.

    However, there were many questions surrounding the testing procedures. Only a little over one half of one percent of the cattle population was tested, of which, none of them were of “healthy” cows. They only tested cows that showed possible symptoms. Downer cows and cows that were aggressive or agitated were tested. But BSE doesn’t make every cow show outward signs of the disease. Cattle can have the disease for months or years before showing any outward symptoms.

    Oh, and testing was voluntary and not done randomly. The Agriculture Department’s inspector general found serious flaws in the testing process, and there were many questions surrounding their procedures.

    And then, just like that, the USDA claimed that we didn’t have a problem with BSE and seriously reduced the scope of the testing program.

    Here is the issue – If the testing was flawed, then the statistics we pulled from the testing are invalid, leaving us at the same point we were back in December of 2003 – not knowing if just how prevalent Mad Cow Disease is or is not.

    And just yesterday we find out that we have the Bush Administration fighting “to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease“.

    Re-read that previous paragraph and see if that makes any sense.

    Why does the government wish to prevent a single meatpacking company (Creekstone Farms – see the back story here) from implementing a perfectly logical response to Mad Cow, both in terms of consumer safety as well as the free-market?

    The problem with the question just asked is that there is no good answer. Every response to that question will either sound shallow and unreasoned (“Larger meat companies fear they might have to perform the expensive test” or “widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry”) or too conspiratorial (“The Cattle Industry does not want any bad press to affect the lucrative export business”).

    But it’s still a question that deserves an answer. Just like the “What percentage of American cattle has BSE?” deserves an answer as well.

    Mad Cow: The Story amongst the Headlines

    There has been plenty of activity in the past three weeks in regard the cattle and Mad Cow disease. Here are some headlines that write a larger story about Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka Mad cow). Ten bucks and a pound of ground beef from Safeway to the person first able to give the subtext to all of this.

    Ninth case of mad cow confirmed in Canada

    On Wednesday, Canada confirmed its ninth case of mad cow disease since 2003, in an Alberta bull that died on a farm last week. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said that a mature bull tested positive for mad cow, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Dr. George Luterbach, the agencyâ??s senior veterinarian for Western Canada, said the animalâ??s death caused the farm to identify it as an â??animal of interestâ? as part of a national surveillance program.

    Latest Canada Mad Cow Case Shows Epidemic

    Two major U.S. cattle groups reacted to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s overnight announcement of a new case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, by decrying the latest case as proof of an epidemic and calling for more information.

    Canadian cattle slip past USDA safeguards

    Hundreds of cattle from Canada, which this month confirmed its ninth case of mad cow disease, have entered the United States without government-required health papers or identification tags, according to documents obtained by cattlemen in Washington state.

    Mad-cow scrutiny is scaled way back

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently scaled back mad-cow testing by more than 90 percent, leading to closure of the WSU lab and several others around the country.

    USDA Refutes Washington Cattlemen’s Take On Canada Cattle Imports

    USDA officials are disputing a claim by Washington producers that hundreds of Canadian cattle have crossed the border without the proper paperwork.

    Bruce Knight, the USDA official charged with investigating whether any federal trade infractions occurred, told Dow Jones Newswires that initial review indicates there have only been a handful of errors in state-level documentation in Washington.

    Uhhh…just how many is “a handful”?

    tags technorati : Mad Cow BSE USDA

    Another Mad Cow Case found in Canada

    Ooof. Canada is starting to look like it has a real problem here.

    That’s the eighth case found in the Great White North.

    Now let me ask rhetorical question here – What exactly is the probability that Canada has a higher rate of BSE over the United States?

    Technorati Tags: BSE, Mad Cow

    Kudos to the USDA

    Kudos goes to those deserve it, even if I don’t happen to like the group deserving the kudos all that much.

    In this case, it’s the USDA. In a rare case of common sense and health concern (even if it’s the health of cattle and not consumer), they withdrew a proposal that would have allowed the import of Canadian cattle over 30 months old. As Canada is having some difficulty with BSE of late, this decision made perfect sense.

    Technorati Tags: Food Politics, Mad Cow

    Wither Mad Cow and the USDA

    I’m a bit late to the Mad Cow story from last week, but several folks have asked for my opinion and I thought best to share here instead of via e-mail.

    First and foremost, the fact that the USDA wants to cut back on testing should surprise no one. Their job is not public safety, but rather “farm” advocacy. I use the quotes around “farm” as the reality of the farm is no longer the tractor, ducks, geese and silos, but rather the Confined Animal Feeding Operations from which we Americans get a fair amount of our beef.

    It’s these owner of these CAFO’s who will benefit the most from this decision, as less testing means less of a chance of finding a cow with BSE, and all of the subsequent bad press that follows. Find a mad cow in Alabama means no longer selling beef in Japan or South Korea. A multi-billion dollar loss of revenue is never a good thing, and someone, somewhere was going to push various lobbying buttons to see how to regain some of that marketplace back. It’s about money, not about health.

    But is the USDA justified in making this cost decision? I’ll repeat some of the points I’ve made in previous posts about Mad Cow.

    • Their sampling data was ridiculously low: The USDA loves to throw out numbers, but never a benchmark to which one should compare the number. They love to say that they’ve tested 759,000 cattle over the past 18 months. The number they don’t tell you is 154,000,000 – which is roughly the cow population (including those slaughtered) during the same time period.

      If you divide the amount tested into the population, you get a statistical sampling of .5% of the cattle population was tested. Is this a large enough sample? I don’t know. But I promise you that the USDA and the cattle industry would prefer if people didn’t know this fact.

    • Their testing methodology was suspect: They only tested cows that showed possible symptoms. Downer cows and cows that were agressive or agitated were tested. But BSE doesn’t make every cow show outward signs of the disease. Cattle can have the disease for months or years before showing any outward symptoms.

      Oh, and testing was voluntary and not done randomly. The Agriculture Department’s inspector general found serious flaws in the testing process

    • They’re ignoring Canada: Canada has found 7 cases of BSE. These Canadian cattle intermingle with herds from the States. Since the border opened up between the two countries, the USDA has not commented on the Canadian cases at all.
    • A new wrinkle in the feed: The USDA touts the new feed restrictions put into place around 1998 as if it’s a line in the sand. Before 1998, feed had cattle remnants within it. Afterwards, not so much.

      Because of this, the USDA and the cattle ranchers have implied that cattle born after the feed restriction were less at risk than those born prior.

      However, the most recent case of BSE from Canada was found in a cow less than five years old, who had been fed feed regulated under somewhat similar restrictions (if anything, the Canadian feed restrictions are more stringent than those here in the US). The USDA nor the cattle industry has commented on this finding either.

    I could list three or four more items here, but I think you get the point.

    Now it is possible that there is no or little issue with BSE in our meat supply. But there is no way we could have learned this from the USDA. There’s simply too many variables that they haven’t addressed.

    Technorati Tags: Food, Mad Cow, BSE

    Yet another Canadian Mad Cow found

    …bringing the number to seven altogether, and 2 in the past three weeks. This cow was found in Manitoba.

    For those of you wondering why I care…The cattle on the border states often go across the border to the north, and vice versa. It’s one of the reasons why the 2003 Cow found here in the state of Washington was said to originate in the Great White North.

    Technorati Tags: Food, Mad Cow, BSE