Mad Cow disease spreads through Europe.
November 24, 2000 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Mad Cow disease spreads through Europe. Now as I understand it, cattle get it by eating food which contains parts of other cattle or sheep who had the disease.

The solution seems straightforward enough: stop using animal-derived ingredients in the food fed to cattle. SO WHY THE HELL ARE THEY STILL DOING IT? Why is this so complicated? Is there something I'm missing here?
posted by Steven Den Beste (18 comments total)
Why are they doing it? To save money of course! Capitalism doesn't give a damn about your health, only about profits.
posted by Mr. skullhead at 9:13 PM on November 24, 2000

Down with capitalism by the way. I suggest we invest all our energy into bringing Lenin back to life.
posted by tiaka at 9:20 PM on November 24, 2000

Technically, Steven, it is banned throughout the EU (as the article notes). The primary problem here is animals that ate infected feed prior to the ban. You can't say it's spreading, exactly, just that the authorities are painfully slow to react to the extent of the problem.

Britain went through the "well, there's an infection, but it isn't necessary to test every animal yet" period a long time ago in crisis terms. France is just reaching that point this year, and in reaction, there is renewed testing in the rest of the EU -- which is turning up examples as noted.

Even an EU-wide eradication, though, will still leave the vulnerability of animals imported from elsewhere -- perhaps the former USSR.
posted by dhartung at 10:57 PM on November 24, 2000

We're only lucky it's not here. It goes like this. Dead animals are ground and added to a recipe of feed. This feed is given to almost all animals we eat, mostly because it is a huge, cheap protein and fat hit to the feed.

Basically, every chicken, pig, cow, or lamb we eat is generally a cannibal - it has been fed dead members of its own species and/or others. One will notice that all of those animals are herbivores - which may or may not compound the problem of feeding them animal protein.
posted by mikel at 11:42 PM on November 24, 2000

These are the times I don't miss eating meat.
posted by john at 11:52 PM on November 24, 2000

with that story, mikel, i rescind my once-a-year (thanksgiving) meat consumption. that's horrific.
posted by patricking at 1:01 AM on November 25, 2000

The current mess that is British farming owes a lot of its problems to the work of that other mad cow who left office ten years ago this week. Thatcher's half-arsed deregulation of agriculture left farmers reliant on EU subsidies, but without a proper supervisory network in place to ensure that cows were left to eat grass (which seems to have served them well for the past few million years) rather than the minced nerve tissue of scrapie-afflicted sheep. Hence the tendency to cut costs in order to boost yields.

(What's worst about the current framework, though, is that it's led to the closure of local abbatoirs, meaning that it's harder to raise small, well-nurtured herds that sell at a premium, since the cost of taking animals to slaughter destroys any margin.)

Then again, the US shouldn't be feeling that smug, given the amount of bovine growth hormone that gets pumped into its herds. Which is why the EU still refuses to import beef from the States. (And why I'm wary about drinking milk in the US, unless it's from known BGH-free sources.)

And yes, I'm vegetarian.
posted by holgate at 1:26 AM on November 25, 2000

You can't blame Thatcher: British farmers have been feeding animal protein to animals for most of the last century... but it's getting worse and worse.

We [the UK] now have almost no cases of infected cattle, because current policy is to kill cattle before they're old enough to display BSE symptoms. Hence, no cattle display symptoms. Perfect bureaucratic logic.

[And the shutdown of local abbatoirs had nothing to do with CAP either: it was all MAFF, even though they blamed the EU. See 'Muckraker' in Private Eyes passim]
posted by theparanoidandroid at 2:04 AM on November 25, 2000

Yep to MAFF and the abbatoirs, though Eyes passim have also mentioned the problem of certifying vets. It's been a shift from under-regulation and misinformation from the civil servants at MAFF to over-regulation: perfect.

(And look, I enjoy blaming Thatcher: she emasculated cabinet government to the extent that Gummer et al were ministers for show during the time that MAFF was hiding evidence of BSE under the carpet.)
posted by holgate at 2:33 AM on November 25, 2000

Here in France, the French have tended to blame the vache folle malady on the British until relatively recently. And everyone's been a part of the fuck-up and cover-up: television has showed pictures of farmers herding cattle into trucks in the middle of the night--cattle that were supposed to be slaughtered and burned but were sold for meat instead.

The government has for months held those very French and mostly useless discussions and debates and conferences and inquests while one by one the number of victims of the illness accumulated. Ultimately it was decided to forbid the consumption of certain parts of the animal and the government has banned the farine animale (animal flour) but the ban is impossible to enforce. There's tons and tons and tons of this stuff: to handle it, they use earth-moving machines. This feed is not secure: it's in silos, feeders, barns, feed sacks, concrete-floored sheds. It's impossible to monitor the destruction of the stuff, impossible to prevent it from contuing to be used and therefore impossible to quickly stop the spread of the disease.

The EU as a whole is resistant to the French request for a ban on the feed EU-wide. Which means that illegal French feed will probably be sold elsewhere...

Liberation has a good dossier (in French) on the problem.

The Tocqueville Connection provides daily updates of French news in English from Radio France International and generally includes the latest twists in the vache folle saga.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:38 AM on November 25, 2000

Pigs and chickens are not herbivores.
posted by argybarg at 12:22 PM on November 25, 2000

Germany wants to ban use of animal products in animal feed. Wow! What a concept. But let's not be in a hurry here; measured steps...

"The group set no date for the ban, but called for an emergency regulation "at the earliest possible time." "The crisis group said the upper house of parliament would act on the issue within two weeks." Let's not rush things.

Control is fine, as long as it doesn't cost money: "The vice president of the main German farmers' lobby, Wilhelm Niemeyer, said Saturday that stockpiles of ground animal meal - enough for 10 days to two weeks - would still have to be used up." Why?

The only way they're going to get real control over this is if a lot of people stop buying beef and the market for it collapses. Then, suddenly, it will become urgent.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:27 PM on November 25, 2000

The disturbing truth is that the damage was done, in Britain at least, many years ago. There have been cases of young people dying of varient CJD who stopped eating meat many years before the symptoms emerged: the incubation period is that long.
posted by holgate at 8:08 PM on November 25, 2000

My father died of the human form of mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, in 1972. We speculate that Dad, an avid hunter, contracted it from eating undercooked organ meats while hunting mountain sheep - right here in the USA. If you think being American protects you from this hideous disease you are sadly mistaken. Ordinary people in this country die from CJD every year. Most cases are never traced back to a specific infecting agent.
posted by NastyChel at 8:24 PM on November 25, 2000 [1 favorite]

I used to eat beef like crazy. In recent years I learned it was slowly killing me, so while I can't go completely vegetarian (I'd go mad) I have removed beef from my diet by about 95%. Some try to tell me that it's just that as one gets older their body begins digesting differently and blah blah blah. I think something subtly yet dramatically different is being done to meat in the past decade. They're literally beefing up cows in ways that make sense from a business standpoint but is slowly poisoning a vast amount of the population. Such things as lactose intolerance are becoming more and more prevalent.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:02 PM on November 26, 2000

Don't agonize, folks.

Buy Australian Beef!!

Yes, that's right, it's the only beef that will actually help you live LONGER, HAPPIER and REWARDING lives!

Don't fight the carnivore within, buy Australian!

Australian Beef is guaranteed to contain no more than 5% kangaroo products.
posted by lagado at 4:02 AM on November 27, 2000

More seriously, Nature magazine: Blood test for prions?

Researchers in Austria and Switzerland have taken a significant step towards developing a reliable test for diseases such as BSE. They have discovered that a common blood component sticks to the rogue prion proteins causing these diseases, but not to similar, non-infectious versions.

The discovery offers new clues about how prion diseases progress, and could even sweep clean infected blood products for transfusions.

posted by lagado at 4:17 AM on November 27, 2000

It surprises me no-one has mentioned the amount of antibiotics present in the intensive (and not-so-intensive) farming industry, usually used as a precaution against disease, not a cure. The net effect seems to be an increased resistance in humans towards prescribed antibiotics and the need for ever larger and/or stroger doses to be administered to patients to combat relatively minor ailments.
posted by Markb at 5:00 AM on November 27, 2000

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