Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bye Bye Beef

From Reuters, 6/20/06: USDA to reduce mad cow testing program by 90 pct

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government will scale down its mad cow surveillance program by 90 percent to reflect a smaller presence of the disease in the United States, but reduced testing should not slow efforts to reopen a foreign markets to U.S. beef, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said on Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will reduce its cattle-testing level to 40,000 head per year. That will be down from an average of about 30,000 head each month since June 2004, after discovery of animals with the disease prompted fears that resulted in Japan, Korea and other countries banning U.S. beef.

The reduced testing level, to take effect after 30 days, will cost $8 million a year, down from $1 million per week at the height of testing. USDA said it will focus on the "most at-risk animals" that show telltale signs of the disease.

As sad as I am to say it, we're swearing off beef. We were wary before and have done limited bursts of not eating beef, but the USDA's irresponsibility on this is too much to ignore. (Having said that, I'm open to eating organic beef, though Shane remains suspicious.)

"Those who are attempting to cause consumers to believe that somehow they're protected by testing really aren't being fair with consumers," said Johanns. "It's pretty blunt, but it's true," he said.

Interesting: Johanns is essentially saying that the USDA's lack of oversight regarding cattle feeding policies has resulted in a culinary crap shoot anytime anyone wants to tuck into a steak. How comforting.

What happens if you are infected with "mad cow"? Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Unlike the other kinds of infectious disease which are spread by microbes, the infectious agent in BSE [Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, aka mad cow] is a specific type of protein. Misshapen ("misfolded") prion proteins carry the disease between individuals and cause deterioration of the brain. BSE is a type of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). [...] Transmission can occur when healthy animals consume tainted tissues from others with the disease. In the brain these proteins cause native cellular prion protein to deform into the infectious state
which then goes on to deform further prion protein in an exponential cascade. These aggregate to form dense plaque fibers, which lead to the microscopic appearance of "holes" in the brain, degeneration of physical and mental abilities and ultimately death. Some TSE's are resistant to extreme temperatures and are not affected by household disinfectants.

The human version of BSE is Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD). "Regular" Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a bit different from vCJD, but the symptoms are similar. From Wikipedia:

The first symptom of CJD is rapidly progressive dementia, leading to memory loss, personality changes and hallucinations. This is accompanied by physical problems such as speech impairment, jerky movements (myoclonus), balance and coordination dysfunction (ataxia), changes in gait, rigid posture, and seizures. The duration of the disease varies greatly, but sporadic (non-inherited) CJD can be fatal within months or even weeks (Johnson, 1998). In most patients, these symptoms are followed by involuntary movements and the appearance of a typical diagnostic electroencephalogram tracing.
The symptoms of CJD are caused by the progressive death of the brain's nerve cells, which is associated with the build-up of abnormal prion proteins. When brain tissue from a CJD patient is examined under a microscope, many tiny holes can be seen where whole areas of nerve cells have died. The word 'spongiform' in 'transmissible spongiform encephalopathies' refers to the 'spongy' appearance of the brain tissue.

Of vCJD, Wikipedia reports it is:

distinguished from the classical type by its early onset (usually in the 20s) and a predominance of psychiatric and sensory symptoms. The prions in this form are thought to be transmitted by consuming the nervous tissue of bovines with so-called mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), although there is no definite proof of this association as yet. It has been shown, however, that PRPSc particles accumulate in gastrointestinal lymphoid tissue (specifically, Peyer's patches) in animals after oral infection (Maignien et al 1999; Beekes and McBride, 2000;
Shmakov and Ghosh, 2001; Ghosh 2002). Furthermore, in vitro studies have shown the uptake of these particles by human gastrointestinal tract cells (Morel et al, 2005). Further suggestive of an oral route of transmission in humans is the fact that over 95% of identified cases of vCJD are in Britain, which suffered a mad cow disease epidemic in the mid-80s. There are very few cases of vCJD. In Britain in 2005, 5 people died from vCJD. There are currently 5 people alive with vCJD in Britain.

You might notice that the connection between BSE and vCJD isn't proven and that "there are very few cases of vCJD." Dementia, personality changes, hallucinations, speech imparement, seizures? ONE case of vCJD is one too many. I shudder at the thought of contracting this disease, let alone someone I love. The kids are disappointed -- adiĆ³s burgers -- but no more beef.

I'll miss you, but I'd miss my mind more.


Anonymous said...

I am so making my husband read this...he is such a red meat eater.

Lis said...

I know how scary this disease is and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.. unfortunately, I can't give up the beef. I respect your decision though and I think it's definitely for the best. There is a gal who blogs about "veggie-beef" - she says it tastes pretty much like the real thing. Unfortunately, I can't think of who it is right this second. But if it's something you think you'd be interested in, let me know and I'll search her out for you.

Laura Rebecca said...

I love beef (and I've got the marbled flanks to show for it) but vCJD scares the bejeezus out of me. I do like Laurie's Lean Beef which isn't organic but (appears) responsible. Still, since the jury is still out on beef for Shane, I haven't bought it recently.

Lis, if you do come across that veggie-beef blogger, please let me know.

I've been meaning to try Quorn but as it's made from vat-grown fungus, there's a major ick factor. Plus, I read it can cause allegric reactions. "Some people have dangerous allergic reactions to the fungus and suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and occasionally hives or difficulty breathing. Some people react the first time they eat Quorn, while some react only after building up a sensitivity."

So maybe I'll stick with ground turkey and gardenburgers for now.

Acme Instant Food said...

This subject is not in my realm of expertise by any means. However, with regard to the organic beef, is purchasing it a serious step toward safety? I'm growing more suspicious each day of foods given the "organic" stamp. Especially given the fact that Wal-Mart and major food distributors are manipulating farmers and taking a stronghold on agricultural procedures.

I don't know what to do. I hear your concern for food safety (I know somebody who just survived a bout with e Coli bacteria they contracted from a meatball sandwich at Subway). Like Lis, I love beef and am I'm not sure I can just pledge to stop eating steak and burgers. Arrgh!

Americans need to get off their complacent butts and begin telling their government what they wish to dine on--not the other way around.

Laura Rebecca said...

Kevin, that's why Shane remains suspicious of the USDA Organic symbol -- the USDA isn't really doing enough. We're at a point that if you want to eat food grown/raised responsibly, you have to personally investigate: so why do we even HAVE the USDA?

Fran said...

Thank you for this informative post. I forwarded it to all of my friends & family.

Lis said...

LR - It's Dispensing Happiness. She eats things called Veat and Morningstar products. Hope this helps =)

Laura Rebecca said...

Thank you, ma'am!