Saturday, March 27, 2010

Should There Be Warning Labels On Packaged Meats?

By Theodora Filis

Mad Cow Disease first surfaces in Britain in 1986. The bizarre illness swept through cattle herds, and then, researchers say, started killing people who ate infected meat. Europe imposes strict laws to stop the spread of the disease. But in the winter of 2001 Mad Cow disease appears in Spain and Germany. With 1 case reported in Canada.  Mad Cow is not yet found in the United States.  But experts warn that America is risking too much by not taking all the necessary precautions.

In 2006 Mad Cow Disease causes a panic in the US. The USDA was quick to assure the American people that BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) did not pose a threat to them. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association says the American government is doing all the right things and in its view American beef is the "safest in the world." What they failed to expose was that the deadly disease had been circulating in the U.S. for over a decade. Most frightening of all… no one is talking about it. For almost 15 years, the US government and the scientific community have known that the human form of the disease, a variant of Crutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), is sometimes misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s.

An undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States showed a California plant, which supplies meat to schools, and has twice won a USDA “Supplier of the Year” award, was slaughtering “downed” animals jeopardizing the health of children and others who consumed their meat. “Downer” cows at this Hallmark slaughter plant were kicked, shocked, jabbed in the eyes, dragged with chains, and those too sick or injured to walk were rammed with a fork lift in an effort to get them to stand so they could pass USDA inspections.

“Downer” is the term the meat and dairy industries use to refer to animals so sick, diseased or disabled that they cannot even stand on their own. Every year untold thousands of “downed animals” or “downers” suffer unspeakable abuse and neglect at production facilities, stockyards and slaughterhouses.

Under current law, most downed animals are still sent to slaughter for human food in spite of their tortured condition. Sadly, even sick and suffering animals spell profit to many in the meat and leather industry. The law only includes some downed cattle (those who go “down” after arriving at the slaughterhouse may still be sent to the kill floor). Other animals who go “down” may be left to die, piled atop one another for hours or even days without food, water or veterinary care, or pushed, prodded or dragged onto the kill floor. “Downer” animals, by law, are not supposed to be added into the food supply. This is because in random USDA testing, 12 of the 15 cows who tested positive for mad cow disease were “downer” animals, making them more likely to carry BSE.

The USDA tests 1 cow out of every 2,000 making it impossible to know how many animals are already infected with the disease, and how many have already entered the food chain.

As a result of the Humane Society investigation, 143 million pounds of beef were recalled, making it the largest beef recall in U.S. history. Much of the potentially-contaminated meat has been consumed. If a facility with five federal inspectors and a veterinarian on staff can get away with such horrific abuse and contamination what goes on elsewhere?

Dr. Paul Brown, former medical director of The National Institutes of Health Laboratory for Central Nervous System Studies and an expert on mad cow-like diseases, explains in an article written for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 

“Much of the lingering uncertainty about the extent of the vCJD outbreak is attributable to the fact that the incubation period of vCJD is unknown. If the average incubation period is 10 to 15 years, the earliest patients with vCJD would have been infected in the early 1980s, when BSE was still silently incubating in small but increasing numbers of cattle. In this case, the large increase in human exposure to contaminated tissues during the late 1980s could lead to a parallel increase in cases of vCJD during the next few years." Dr. Brown warns that “If large numbers of infected persons are silently incubating the disease, the potential for human-to-human iatrogenic spread of vCJD is very real…”

Today, nearly 95% of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy cases have been located in the UK, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and the US.

All packaged meats should carry warning labels that read: “This meat has been tortured using the most painful methods imaginable. No care has been taken in the raising, slaughtering or preparation. Consumption of this meat could lead to Crutzfeldt-Jakob disease causing death and is sometimes misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s.“

As you sow, so shall you reap.