How Now, Mad Cow?
May 31, 2007 12:56 AM   Subscribe

The Bush administration has vowed that it will fight to keep meatpackers from voluntarily testing all of their cows for mad cow disease. Currently, the Agriculture Department tests fewer than 1 percent of slaughtered cows. Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of their cows, but larger meat companies have objected, fearing that they might need to test their own cows to stay competitive. The Agriculture Department has also argued that potential false positives could harm the meat industry. Meanwhile, the president, under pressure from the cattle industry, is serving more beef to various visiting foreign statesemen and lamenting that mad cow fears are preventing the Chinese from enjoying American beef: “They need to be eating US beef. It's good for them. They'll like it.” When China rejects our food, shouldn’t we be worried?
posted by kyrademon (100 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't have a cow, man.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:01 AM on May 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Well, it is unfair to make the test illegal, but the test itself is incredibly misleading.
If the probability of detecting a mad cow by the test is around 92%, but the specificity is only 95% you will get a lot of false positives 5%(values taken from here).
Given a BSE prevalence of 0.01% (incredibly high, only 3 cases have ever been seen in the states), you will get 500 false positives for every real positive, making the test basically useless.
posted by scodger at 1:31 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Chinese link is interesting ; one would think that unscrupolous industries would close an eye or two to enjoy the opportunity of buying products at chinese prices ..and if there is a modicum of shit within the product, who cares. But this time the supplier tough he could get away with adding melamine ; the greedy oversea bastards already making 1000% profits per unit , they possibly tought, will have to put up with our melamine wheter they like or not.

More is on the table, of course. If you want to sell your cows to china you will have to close a few eyes on what comes from china and not just give up some miserable million to make friends oversea.
posted by elpapacito at 1:45 AM on May 31, 2007


Fals positives? But that is exactly what they argue about terrorism. Better safe than sorry, except when it comes to being a consumer.
posted by GavinR at 1:53 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


"The Agriculture Department has also argued that potential false positives could harm the meat "

Potential False Positives is going into the list of potential band names.

Either that, or as a reworking for Microsoft's odious ad copy:

"Your false potential. Our false passion." Has a nice ring to it, eh?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:57 AM on May 31, 2007


this is why I stopped eating meat 3 years ago. dig around for a story near the end of 2004. there were reports of US farmers burying their dead cows to hide their mad cow infected animals. the USDA is bullshit.
posted by lsd4all at 2:07 AM on May 31, 2007


Scodger, I don't know enough to dispute your math, but it doesn't seem to tally with the facts, as far as I can tell.

Here's a USDA document which indicates that, of 787,711 cows tested between 2004 and 2006, there were only two false positives (both in the first few weeks of testing), along with two confirmed positives in the same period. This FAQ from the EU states that 3 of the 4 rapid tests they use had an 100% accuracy rate on sample specimens. (You can download a PDF of their evaluation here, I believe.)

Japan had a "test all" policy for years, although in the last couple of years I believe they're no longer testing cattle younger than 21 months old, and there are not major reports of false positives - in fact, This pdf document discussing the trade-off between the posibilities of false positives and false negatives in Japanese testing procedures would seem to say that there are tests at sensitivity levels that can make the risk of false positives vanishingly low.

There may be arguments that can be made against mandated 100% testing (although I can think of no rational arguments against voluntary 100% testing), but the threat of hundreds of false positives does not seem to be the reality of the situation.
posted by kyrademon at 2:07 AM on May 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


If China sells us lethally tainted food that kills our cats and dogs, we should be able to sell lethally tainted food to China. It's only fair!
posted by -harlequin- at 2:12 AM on May 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, the president, under pressure from the cattle industry,

Not "under pressue", but rather "in the bloody pockets of". Whatever happened to the conservative mantra of getting the government OFF OUR BACKS? The Republicans have totally sold the government out to corporate interests. How any conservative can support them is simply beyond belief.

There may be arguments that can be made against mandated 100% testing

But no arguments against voluntary 100% testing. Let the consumer/market decide.

Funny about U.S. exports however. My wife and I were just observing the fact that there is no U.S. meat available here in Sweden. Plenty of beef from Ireland and Brazil, delicious lamb from New Zealand, pork from Germany and Denmark, but nothing in the shops from the good old U.S. of A. The only agricultural product from America seems to be Washington state apples.
posted by three blind mice at 2:19 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah looks like you are right, the numbers I got from a new method they are trying to develop. Still, I think testing fro something with such a low frequency is more marketing than actual concern.
posted by scodger at 2:20 AM on May 31, 2007


only 3 cases have ever been seen in the states

It's awesome how you never find stuff when you just close your eyes and don't look for it :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:20 AM on May 31, 2007 [10 favorites]


I tuned out after the words The Bush Administration has vowed that it will...

I mean, really. Finish the sentence.

The Bush Administration has vowed that it will...slaughter every first-born child in Manhattan [and eat their succulent livers].

The Bush Administration has vowed that it will...detain every human in Berkeley, California until they all agree to stop listening to Noam Chomsky podcasts.

The Bush Administration has vowed that it will... use special missiles to displace the moon in order to stop women from menstruating.

The Bush Administration has vowed that it will... retire the Congress and invade the rest of the Middle East... all at once. Your unquestioning future complicity will be enforced by roving...

etc, etc.
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:31 AM on May 31, 2007 [9 favorites]


Surely this will be the ... Oh yeah right.
posted by ioerror at 2:32 AM on May 31, 2007


Since it hasn't been openly stated yet: They're not simply concerned about false positives, and the hassle of having to test more to stay competitive, it's that they know plain well that any testing rigorous enough to look itself in the mirror and have a shred of self-respect is highly likely to uncover more cases of BSE, which will cause a problem.

You don't fight voluntary testing with this much energy just because you're afraid of having to make your product equal to that of your competitors.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:33 AM on May 31, 2007 [9 favorites]


Scodger, why would it matter if it's more marketing than actual concern? Why on earth should the Bush administration have a say in whether or not a company chooses to, voluntarily and at their own expense, institute higher safety standards, even if it is for marketing reasons?

BSE may, in fact, turn out to be of such low frequency that testing for it is inessential ... but with a less than 1% testing rate, dangerous animal feed policies, disease-encouraging farm conditions, and economic incentive for companies to bury evidence, how on earth can we know that right now?

We've gotten wake-up call after wake-up call after wake-up call in the last year or so that our food producing, collection, and distribution system is not just an accident waiting to happen, by an series of accidents that have already begun to happen - E. coli in the domestic spinach, melamine in the imported pet food, the honeybee pollinator population collapsing. The fact that, in the very shadow of those events, the executive branch is trying to prevent a company from doing voluntary testing of any food-borne illness fills me with dread. And it does not fill me with confidence that steps are going to be taken to correct the problems that already exist.
posted by kyrademon at 2:38 AM on May 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


The Agriculture Department tests fewer than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease

I'm under the impression that "fewer than 1 percent" does not mean 0.5%, or even 0.1%...
or even 0.05%...
or even 0.01%!
I think it's around 0.007%
Combine that testing rate with the (hopefully!) low incidence of BSE, and you have as much chance winning the lottery as you do in detecting BSE.

At that rate, I think "fewer than 1%", while not a falsehood, is somewhat misleading.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:41 AM on May 31, 2007


Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.

I just like saying it.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy!
posted by carsonb at 2:43 AM on May 31, 2007


scodger: thanks for reminding me of bayes in a practical application.

Probability of disease given a positive test =

[ (prevalence x sensitivity)] / [(prevalence x sensitivity) + ((1-prevalence) x (1-specificity)))]

So with regard to that BSE test, we have a sensitivity of 0.92 and a specificity of 0.95 and a prevalence of 0.01 ; therefore

0.01*0.92 / 0.01*0.92 + (1-0.01)*(1-0.92) = 0.0092/[(0.0092)+(0.99)(0.08)] = 0,104

Which means that with every positive tests there is a 10% probability that the cow is also infected cow.
posted by elpapacito at 2:44 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Y'know, I'm wondering if the false positives thing is a bit of a lie.

The BSE tests are not a single line. There is the first line of (mass) testing, where a positive result really just means the animal is flagged for the serious tests, and that 2nd line of testing is definitive - there are no false positives because what the pathologists say, goes, as far as anyone and everyone is concerned.

So where do these "false positives" come into the picture?
posted by -harlequin- at 2:59 AM on May 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


-harlequin-, from what I can tell poking around the web, the USDA tests about 40,000 cows a year, which I've seen cited as a tenth of one percent of the total domestic cows slaughtered, and which comes to about 0.04% of the 95 million total U.S. cattle.
posted by kyrademon at 3:05 AM on May 31, 2007


They send us poisoned pet food and sketchy fish, we send them crazy cows. Seems like fair trade to me.
posted by DenOfSizer at 3:14 AM on May 31, 2007


I just like saying it.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy!


Somebody get that kid some treatment. He's starting to foam!
posted by dreamsign at 3:27 AM on May 31, 2007


I love the title of this post. Well done, kyrademon.

My response to the mad cow thing - since I absolutely don't trust the government of either country I've lived in to require sufficient testing - is to limit myself to steaks and roasts (no ground meat). My understanding is that blocks of meat like that can't have spinal cord stuff in it and that that's the stuff we have to worry about. (If I'm wrong about that I am sure somebody will point it out.)

When I want ground meat, I get ground turkey, which tastes as good anyway once you add spices and is better for you for other reasons as well.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:31 AM on May 31, 2007


You need a John Gummer moment.
posted by vbfg at 3:32 AM on May 31, 2007


Oh, and because I am trying to work on my outrage surplus, here's my Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy joke:

Two cows are standing around in a pasture.

One cow looks at the other and says: "Hey Frank, have you heard about this new mad cow disease going around?"

The other cow says, "What do I care? I'm a helicopter."
posted by dreamsign at 3:33 AM on May 31, 2007 [12 favorites]


This shit is part of why I'm vegetarian.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:56 AM on May 31, 2007


So it's not enough for the government to be actively screwing things up around the world? They have to legislate against people trying to make them better?

This is like like passing laws banning seatbelts in the 50's. Only the big automakers and the gov't didn't actually try to pass laws against them.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:11 AM on May 31, 2007


this is why I stopped eating meat 3 years ago. dig around for a story near the end of 2004. there were reports of US farmers burying their dead cows to hide their mad cow infected animals. the USDA is bullshit.

They call it Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:28 AM on May 31, 2007


It seems like some firms choosing to differentiate themselves on the basis of safety is a good thing. Especially concerned people can select their products, and they are likely to foster greater caution in the industry as a whole.

Given the serious reservations that many reasonable people have about the health and safety standards of mass-farmed meat, a bit of profit-driven scrutiny might be just the thing required.
posted by sindark at 4:37 AM on May 31, 2007


Devils Rancher's suggestion was made by Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta, the last time they had a mad cow test positive.
posted by anthill at 5:00 AM on May 31, 2007


I think it more critical to test the Bush Administration for mad cow disease.

Denny Crane!
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:10 AM on May 31, 2007


It just amazes me that conservatives would even consider agreeing with the Administration on this. This is the very definition of government interfering in the free market. I have no idea where they think support is on this; even a cursory wade into the Free Republic cesspool has people going apeshit.

I have a feeling this is also going to be a huge test case for Genetically-modified food. If the Bushies get away with this then I'm sure the next step will be having the FDA forbid produce and meat packagers from advertising that their products are "GM free."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:11 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


It just amazes me that conservatives would even consider agreeing with the Administration on this.

You have a site here full of knee-jerk opposition to everything Bush does, and you're surprised there is corresponding knee-jerk support?
posted by smackfu at 5:28 AM on May 31, 2007


[ (prevalence x sensitivity)] / [(prevalence x sensitivity) + ((1-prevalence) x (1-specificity)))]

So with regard to that BSE test, we have a sensitivity of 0.92 and a specificity of 0.95 and a prevalence of 0.01 ; therefore

0.01*0.92 / 0.01*0.92 + (1-0.01)*(1-0.925) = 0.0092/[(0.0092)+(0.99)(0.085)] = 0,10457

Which means that with every positive tests there is a 106% probability that the cow is also infected cow.
God I love math homework.
posted by MtDewd at 5:44 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


You have a site here full of knee-jerk opposition to everything Bush does, and you're surprised there is corresponding knee-jerk support?

XQUZYPHYR notes that on a site full of knee-jerk support to Bush there is actually opposition. (I'll trust X's take on what is happening with the Freepers because I cannot bring myself to visit that cesspool.) Whilst this is a surprise to me, it is a pleasant one. Anyone who calls themselves conservative should have long ago cast aside any allegiance to these big government, big spending, nation-building Republicans, but immigration was the first sign of any large departure. It seems that Herr Bush has no support from his base on a number of matters (such as this one) and yet (like the monarch he deems himself to be) King George W presses on regardless. 2008 is going to be a delicious bloodbath for the GOP and those of us who enjoy a nice bit of red meat are going to have a feast.
posted by three blind mice at 5:45 AM on May 31, 2007


The Bush administration has vowed that it will fight to keep meatpackers from voluntarily testing all of their cows for mad cow disease.

The Bush Administration? You mean the bush administration and the Democratic congress, right? Because the democrats are in control, they could legalize cow testing in any one of their bills. They're currently working on an Ag bill now, perhaps you should contact your representative.
posted by delmoi at 5:53 AM on May 31, 2007


By the way, you know who wants to do this: McDonald's. They want to put tested beef in all their burgers, and it is (in part) marketing, but I suppose some of those corporate types might have a conscious. Of course on the other hand the health risks from BSE are probably much lower then the health risks from all the artery clogging bullshit they put in their food anyway.

But yeah, Any cow that comes up positive for the test can be re-tested and discarded. false positives are not a problem in this application Just discard any cow that false positives, and you only have a 6% reduction in productivity. The false positive rate isn't really a problem here.
posted by delmoi at 6:00 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Bush Administration? You mean the bush administration and the Democratic congress, right? Because the democrats are in control, they could legalize cow testing in any one of their bills.

Well, reality really doesn't prevent the Bush administration from vowing whatever they want -- and it never did.
posted by dreamsign at 6:15 AM on May 31, 2007


One of the main reasons the test is done in small numbers is beacuse it's hugely resource intensive. The BSE test isn't a something simple like a blood test, it's a detailled examination of the cows brain and nervous structures by a trained vet. It takes days to weeks for one vet to do one cow.

It would not be practical to test every cow bred for slaughter in the US. There aren't enought vets and vet techs to do it.

The "test every cow" requirement of Japan can be argued to be a protectionist measure. Japan produces so few beef cattle that it can "test" every cow that goes for slaughter.

That all said, there are real criticisms to make of the US FDA policies on BSE. It possibly doesn't test enough animals; Canada tests about 0.7-1% of it's slaughter herd every year. The herds in Canda and the US are so integrated as to be indistinguishable (though this is less true than it was ten years ago). Arguably, the US incidence is similar to that in Canada, which would imply that about 50 cases of BSE have gone undetected in the US in the past ten years or so.
posted by bonehead at 6:16 AM on May 31, 2007


Oh and the test number shouldn't be #tested/total herd, you should use the number of slaughtered animals, about 35M/year. You can't test a live animal. That gives a US test rate of about 0.1%.
posted by bonehead at 6:20 AM on May 31, 2007


Here's the text of the opinion. Skidmore deference, baby! Also, the last paragraph is incredibly irritating.
posted by footnote at 6:32 AM on May 31, 2007


It's not the false positives you worry about, it's the false negatives. That would allow the BSE to go undetected. With a false positive, you can segregate the animal carcass and run a more discriminating test, or take it out of the food chain and count your losses.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:42 AM on May 31, 2007


One of the main reasons the test is done in small numbers is beacuse it's hugely resource intensive. The BSE test isn't a something simple like a blood test, it's a detailled examination of the cows brain and nervous structures by a trained vet. It takes days to weeks for one vet to do one cow.

bonehead: none of that really negates the concept of the USDA forbidding a smaller company from doing so. I would understand that argument if the USDA was, say, ordering all cattle in the US to be individually tested, against the conclusions of scientists. But it's not that at all.

The closest comparison I could think of is how Wal-Wart, demanding lower prices from their suppliers, have now reduced quality to the point of clothing and machine retailers making "Wal-Mart versions" of their products- in other words, crappier versions that cost less to make and therefore cost less to sell. Some companies have just decided to stop selling at Wal-Mart. This USDA move is the equivalent of saying that by law, companies have to make shittier products and sell them to Wal-Mart at a lower price... because if they don't, Wal-Mart would have to compete by selling better products at higher prices.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:45 AM on May 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's not the false positives you worry about, it's the false negatives.

No. False negatives are something that you or I (the consumers) might worry about. They (the meat industry lobbyists and the Bush administration, etc) don't give a flying shit about false negatives - they are fighting to stop the testing even taking place at all.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:09 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sure, I was just addressing some of the points brought up by other posters. There's an impression amoung some that testing is like it is on Star Trek, instant and no cost, that the only reason for not doing more is intransigence. There are practical reasons why more isn't being done---it would cost a shed-load of money and there aren't enough people to do it.

It would take years to ramp up capacity using the current test protocol. University admissions are up, but numbers of science admissions are down.

It is very reasonable to say that more testing should be done though. Analyses like MtDewd's are very strong arguments for higher testing rates.
posted by bonehead at 7:21 AM on May 31, 2007


Bonehead, we are talking about voluntary testing by one (or a limited number of companies) and them assuming the expenses (or passing them along with a statement of heightened quality assurance). If I was in the business, I'd like that as an option to set me apart from my competitors.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:01 AM on May 31, 2007


If China sells us lethally tainted food that kills our cats and dogs, we should be able to sell lethally tainted food to China. It's only fair!

And it's the only way we're ever gonna get out from underneath all those loans they've made us! Give 'em mad cow and maybe they'll, like, forget they own lots of our debt.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:13 AM on May 31, 2007


...detain every human in Berkeley, California until they all agree to stop listening to Noam Chomsky podcasts.

You say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by oaf at 8:15 AM on May 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wonder what the false-postive rate is at Guantanamo.
posted by troybob at 8:21 AM on May 31, 2007


The Great Invisible Hand of the Free Markey must NOT be allowed to interfere with corporate profits!

Who do these little guy businesses think they are, trying to make ADM and ConAgra look bad anyway?

They better watch or they'll find melamine in their cattle feed and a horse's head in the bed!

Innovative practices and competitive spirit is bad, bad, bad! Just ask the Bushies, champions of the haves and have-mores.
posted by nofundy at 8:25 AM on May 31, 2007


free markey ... heh ... [cough] market
posted by nofundy at 8:26 AM on May 31, 2007


Could someone tell if there are any factual errors in the article Mad Cows and Irrational Hysterics (scroll down) at skeptic.com that is critical about the mad cow decease.

I'm not saying that anyone in this thread is wrong. My uneducated little brain just found it convincing and I’d like to know the other side.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 8:50 AM on May 31, 2007


Dont fuck with the meat industy. Seriously. Oprah got her ass kicked, and the last presidential to do so was smeared by induistry until he could no longer run. (Can't remember cite: maybe in Omnivores dilemma).

This is a problem with Republicans and Democrats. Fuck, it's a problem with the US: look at The Jungle by Upton Sinclair: we're returning to those days.
posted by lalochezia at 8:50 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


The USDA clearly doesn't now how to play this game. They should pass this little problem off to the FDA, who are better at it. All the FDA has to do is issue statements which they require beef producers to put on their packaging:
The FDA has determined that there is no significant difference in the meat produced by cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encepalopathy and uninfected cows.
And there you are, problem solved by fiat. And if people die of it, they can require a similar statement to be placed on your headstone, to the effect that the FDA has determined that there is no significant difference between being dead and being alive.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:07 AM on May 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


Man, this is such a downer.
posted by SaintCynr at 9:15 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Bush Administration? You mean the bush administration and the Democratic congress, right? Because the democrats are in control, they could legalize cow testing in any one of their bills.


The Democrats are not in control until they have enough votes to override a Presidential Veto. A simple Democrat majority in Congress does not insure that, so it's kind of silly for people to continue to assert that the Democrats are "in control". Especially since it leads those of uncomplicated intellect to believe that Democrats currently have the power to end wars and root out mad cows.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:15 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


dances_with_sneetches, what you say is true, but has little to do with my point. Many posters were discussing the rate of testing in the US. I was attempting to give some context for that. In particular, the argument that the Japanese do 100% testing is primarily protectionism rather than good science.

It is interesting however, the groups of cattlemen behind the current lawsuits have very similar membership lists to those that demanded more testing of Canadian cattle a few years ago. These issues have very little to do with science and more to do with trade and political considerations than anything else. My mistake for trying to introduce some facts rather than opinion. My bad.
posted by bonehead at 9:15 AM on May 31, 2007


And I thought the Invisible Hand of the Free Market™ was the sub-deity that brought all that is wonderful and good into the US of A.

I really wish I could get grass-fed beef or bison that was tested to be free of BSE. Unfortunately I can't afford even the grass-fed part. :/
posted by Talanvor at 9:19 AM on May 31, 2007


You are all misinformed. We're promoting the transformation of brains into sponges. This is part of No Child Left Behind.
posted by zennie at 9:22 AM on May 31, 2007


"Your unquestioning future complicity will be enforced by roving..."



Funny how these days, that works as a complete sentence...
posted by stenseng at 9:22 AM on May 31, 2007


Bonehead, I don't think any (or at least, not very many) people on this thread have come out in favor of mandated 100% testing. I have seen arguments that the current 0.1% testing rate is far too low, that the "false positives" argument is pretty much an outright lie, and that if the administration succeeds in their aim here it will set an idiotic and dangerous precendent in terms of consumer safety. You're largely arguing against a position that no one has taken.
posted by kyrademon at 9:33 AM on May 31, 2007


Here's the thing that I think some people are missing. The USDA is not just saying "no widespread testing". They are also saying that individual meatpacking businesses are not allowed test their own cows at their own expense.

They are saying "I'm sorry, you are not allowed to spend your own money to make your product more appealing to certain consumers."

Nobody is asking the big meatpacking concerns to do any additional testing whatsoever, least of all the USDA. It's just that the big meatpacking concerns don't want the little guys doing any testing either. This completely filets the conservative argument that companies can and should regulate themselves without governmental intervention; government is intervening to prevent self-regulation.

It is also worth noting that since very little testing is done in this country (under 1% from what I've read), we really have no idea what the actual rate of BSE is. My inner cynic says you can't find a fever if you don't take a temperature.
posted by ilsa at 9:34 AM on May 31, 2007 [6 favorites]


It takes days to weeks for one vet to do one cow.

Source?
posted by Miko at 9:46 AM on May 31, 2007


Based on conversations I've had with the vets themselves, I'm afraid. No literature I can cite you.
posted by bonehead at 9:50 AM on May 31, 2007


What if Mom-and-Pop Peanut Butter Co. wanted to test their product at their expense for say, Deadly-Evil Peanut Blight and advertise that their product was free and clear of Deadly-Evil Peanut Blight, implying, quite falsely, that eating the big name other brands like Jif or Skippy might lead a consumer to be exposed to Deadly-Evil Peanut Blight and therefore forcing Jif and Skippy at their great expense to test for Deadly-Evil Peanut Blight even if Deadly-Evil Peanut Blight is not really a problem for humans anyway and the testing would only lead to further false impressions in the public that it was a serious issue especially as many jars of peanut butter would have to be destroyed due to a number of false positives?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:50 AM on May 31, 2007


It's a representative sample, ilsa. Think of how many people are used in political polling, and they're largely accepted as fact. 1% of all the cattle in America is still a very large number, certainly large enough to get accurate data.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 9:51 AM on May 31, 2007


We're talking about a disease vector, not a political movement. If your third party voter, unaccounted for in the advance polls, could suddenly virally infect all his neighbours, why... think of what a wonderful country it could be... OH SORRY. I mean, ah, well you get the picture.
posted by dreamsign at 9:59 AM on May 31, 2007


I can imagine it might take days for test results to come back from the lab, but the actual testing I'm reading about appears to begin with a 'rapid screening' and proceed to more specific testing only if the first test comes up positive. Given the numbers I've been looking at on the USDA sites, it would be impossible to even suggest this if it took days or weeks to test a single cow. For instance, this company advertises that its test is so quick and low-cost that it could be "routinely applied to test all cattle/sheep in the EC on a yearly basis".

Presumably the cost/benefit analysis (in time and labor)would have to be in favor of any large meatpacking company that wanted to do this. It would be surprising if the testing were so very expensive and time-consuming.

Here's an FAQ on BSE, again from the EC. Have to go to a meeting now, or I would search more. Very interesting discussion.

Joannemerriam, as far as I recall from reading Fast Food Nation a few years ago, the risk from both BSE and less scary bacterial illnesses is lessened by eating whole cuts of meat, but not erased. It all depends on the factory's process - what saws are used, and how often the blades are cleaned.
posted by Miko at 9:59 AM on May 31, 2007


In response to the "days to weeks for one vet" argument, here are quotes from some news and government sources from Canada:

"The [Bio-Rad TeSeE ELISA initial rapid] testing platform can process up to 1000 samples in an eight-hour time period ... and will produce results in just four hours."

"Reports from Japan, where every single animal is tested, show that the false positive rate for the Bio-Rad TeSeE ELISA test is 1 in 30,000 (specificity) ...

"... if the initial ... screening test generates either an 'inconclusive' or 'positive reaction', duplicate samples of the obex are prepared and both are tested again. If ... both of the repeat tests yield an 'inconclusive' or 'positive reactor' test result, further testing, using immunohistochemistry staining (the international 'gold standard' test for detecting prions) and a western blot technique, is conducted to determine if the sample is truly positive or negative."

In other words, an initial test, which will only produce a false positive 1 in 30,000 times, can be conducted on a very fast time scale, and only those results which come up positive (almost all of which will be real positives) will require more intensive, longer testing.

It does not take days to weeks for one vet to do one cow.
posted by kyrademon at 10:00 AM on May 31, 2007


JeNeSaisQuois: I had a longer post concerning that article, but metfilter decided to time out on me.

Essentially, the author of that piece argues that there is little evidence of BSE causing vCJD in humans. He does this using non-sequitors and by pushing the limits of plausibility. He also very selectively cites some old litterature on the subject. To counter, from a review last year: "To date, there has been no known association of primary vCJD with occupation, medicines, immunising agents, gelatine, or surgery (including the use of catgut sutures), or exposure to bovine products other than by ingestion." See the article for more details, but there's no other way known to get vCJD than consumption of BSE-infected beef. About 200 people world-wide will die or have died because of BSE.

The most charitable thing I can say about that article is that it's misleading.
posted by bonehead at 10:07 AM on May 31, 2007


Well, all I can say kyrademon, is that it did take a few days in 2000-2003 at the height of the Canadian scare, which is when I talked to those vets. At that time, they were using histological tests, examining the brains and spinal columns under microscopes to look for lesions. This was considered the only good test for the disease.

I knew that rapid screening tests were under development, but I wasn't aware that they were yet considered good enough for food use.
posted by bonehead at 10:14 AM on May 31, 2007


If the US Beef to China thing doesn't work out, maybe Bush can try India.
posted by kurumi at 10:14 AM on May 31, 2007


Pollomacho, you will have to pardon me if I do not weep for the plight of the large corporations who, faced with the terrible burden of Mom-And-Pop Peanut Butter (truthfully) stating that they are free of Deadly-Evil Peanut Blight, must use their non-tiny advertising budgets to counter that Deadly-Evil Peanut Blight is (probably) pretty rare.

How is that any different from Mom-And-Pop truthfully advertising that any of their product lines are organic? Locally grown? Free of rBGH? Non-GMO? Non-irradiated? High in fiber? Packed with vitamin C?

Do those things really affect health? Probably some yes, maybe some no. But if a company wants to truthfully advertise its products as such, and a consumer happens to want to buy such a product, then why is that an unfair business practice?

If Deadly-Evil Peanut Blight isn't really a big problem, isn't the proper answer to spread the word about that, rather than keep Mom-And-Pop from saying anything? Isn't the ideal a more informed populace, not one kept in the dark for their own good?
posted by kyrademon at 10:18 AM on May 31, 2007


(No prob, bonehead ... if your info was out-of-date, that's an issue that has blindsided many a good commentator. I do, in fact, agree with you that 100% BSE testing is probably unnecessary and possibly unfeasible for the U.S. herd, although I think 0.1% is too low, and that general food inspection practices in the U.S. are dangerously negligent.)
posted by kyrademon at 10:25 AM on May 31, 2007


OK - I admit I'm very bad for not reading the WHOLE series of posts before posting, but here goes:
- Yes, the test isn't perfect,
- Yes, China is both our partner and nemesis,
- Yes Bush is evil, and
- Yes, Creekstone really needs to win this fight, and finally,
- Yes this exposes the naked greed of the administration and their cronies and exposes their political agenda as not even being fascist anymore, or even right-wing, as Creekstone's tests, whether motivated by science or by mass panic, is a very pure example of market forces determining corporate behaivor

-- BUT --

None of this would be an issue if we finally and COMPLETELY stopped feeding cows to cows! In New Zealand and Australia, cows are fed GRASS, just like Jimmy Dean intended. No rendered animals sent to animal feed, no problem! I imagine cows eating their feed and crying "Soylent Green is made out of cows!"
posted by skybolt at 10:43 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Do those things really affect health? Probably some yes, maybe some no. But if a company wants to truthfully advertise its products as such, and a consumer happens to want to buy such a product, then why is that an unfair business practice?

Here's why:

Enforcement Policy Statement on
Food Advertising


May 1994...

IV. Health Claims

FDA's regulations for health claims in food labeling establish general standards for the use of claims that characterize the relationship of a substance in a food to a disease or health-related condition. These general standards include, among other things: (1) limiting authorization of health claims only to those categories for which there is "significant scientific agreement" that the relevant diet-disease relationship is supported by the scientific evidence...


From here.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:11 AM on May 31, 2007


Cows haven't been fed to cows in Canada since 1997 (save for a few accidents with old feed).
posted by bonehead at 11:13 AM on May 31, 2007


Pollomacho, are you seriously arguing (going back to the Peanut Butter Disease comment in relation to your latest one) that there is no valid relationship between conducting tests for mad cow disease and the possible presence of mad cow disease?
posted by kyrademon at 11:19 AM on May 31, 2007


If anything survives the barbeque charring and sauces I put on my steaks, it deserves to live.
posted by drstein at 11:40 AM on May 31, 2007


...it deserves to live...inside your brain and kill you.
posted by agregoli at 11:46 AM on May 31, 2007


Huh? From the article:

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone should test its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive tests on their larger herds as well.

I'm just stating what the FDA and FTC rules are in regards to health claims in food advertising, which is what the lager meat producers (with the support of the White House) are arguing that Creekstone is intending to violate with their testing proposal. The USDA and FDA have yet to make statements that there is "'significant scientific agreement' that the relevant diet-disease relationship is supported by the scientific evidence," and further as they are organizations under the control of the Executive I expect that the FTC and FDA will attempt to crack down on any advertising by Creekstone that implies that there is.

My earlier statement regarding peanut butter was an attempt to take the perspective of the subject as a whole out of the highly contraversial realm of the beef industry which, frankly, ends in a cluster-fuck of the highest degree whenever it is discussed in the blue.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:47 AM on May 31, 2007


this is why I stopped eating meat 3 years ago.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but if you were exposed to BSE, not eating meat NOW isn't going to help. Of course, if you haven't been exposed, this is a good prevention strategy, but there's really no way to know.

You might want to consider reading this page from the CDC about the relationship between "mad cow" and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. Prion disease are scary shit, but the fact of the matter is that there's very little that we can do about them given our current medical technology. Yes, we should be testing for BSE and excluding cattle that have it from the market, absolutely, but freaking out about it and saying "I'm never going to eat a hamburger again!" is a bit of an overreaction considering how small the risk actually is.

I made an earlier post about "Mad Human Disease" that would be interesting reading to anyone who wants to know more about prion diseases. (Also, the book referenced, The Family That Couldn't Sleep, is phenomenal.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:50 AM on May 31, 2007


If the US Beef to China thing doesn't work out, maybe Bush can try India.

Oooooh. I laughed so hard, I think I peed in my mouth a little.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:55 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think I misread your tone and gist, Pollomacho. My apologies.

I actually strongly support the rules that state that companies cannot make wild and groundless health claims regarding their products. It just boggles my mind that it is possible to argue that BSE-tested=BSE-free is a relationship without scientific support.
posted by kyrademon at 11:57 AM on May 31, 2007


I think what they are arguing is not an unsubstanciated relationship between BSE-tested and BSE-free but that "BSE-tested=vCJD-free" is a claim that the FDA/USDA have not ruled as acurate and thus advertisable.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:17 PM on May 31, 2007


I suspect that the reason the Bush administration is against
100% testing has to do with the number of BSE cases that
will be found. Testing 40,000 cows out of 40 million slaughters
currently has about a 50/50 chance, per year, of detecting
one case of BSE if it is present at the rate of .00175 %, or if
there are about 700 cases of BSE in the 40 million cows.

Currently the perception of the public is that there are one,
maybe two mad cows in the whole herd, because of testing.
I suspect that 100% testing will reveal hundreds of cows that
are infected, and the perception will be that meat is much less
safe, and the beef industry will see domestic sales plummet.
Even now, organic beef sales are increasing by 20%
a year in the United States.

On the other hand, I don't expect complete testing to bother the export
market. Choose "frozen meat" and take a look at the exports
from the US for the last 6 years, and you can see the disaster
from the 2003 BSE scare (http://www.fas.usda.gov/esrquery/esrqg.aspx).
But exports are a fraction of domestic sales.

Here's a short discussion of market consequences for scenarios
of reduced domestic beef consumption in the US, from North Dakota State University.

In short, what -harlequin- said.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:43 PM on May 31, 2007


Creekstone Farms: The Burger That WON'T Make You Sick and Kill You!
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:52 PM on May 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


One thing is, the faulty math goes both ways. Do people overestimate their chances of catching relatively rare diseases as a result of media hype? Absolutely! But as the Real Dan just pointed out, they may also be severely understimating their chances as a result of business and government disingenuousness.

Case in point - testing a tenth of one percent of the slaughtered herd, the seem to have found about one cow with BSE each year. Doesn't sound like a lot.

But of course, extrapolating that out, it would seem likely that, had they tested the whole slaughtered herd, they would have found about 1,000 cows with BSE each year. Still, a thousand out of 40 million or so? Your chances are pretty darn good.

And indeed, they are. Except when you consider that one cow does not produce only one burger, nor does a single burger come from a single cow, and now does the average person eat only one burger a year.

Statistcs say that roughly 60 billion are eaten in the U.S. each year, at home or in restaurants. Not all are domestic, or course, and not all slaughtered cows are made into burgers, naturally, so here it gets hard to estimate. But let's take a stab at it and guess that every slaughtered cow could end up in 100 or so burgers.

Suddenly there's 100,000 potentially tainted burgers floating around. That's ... unnerving. Still, 100,000 out of 60 billion? You've only got a 1 in six hundred thousand chance of your burger being potentially infected.

Of course, if 60 billion burgers are being eaten, that means that the average person is eating 200 hamburgers a year. Your odds suddenly shoot up to a 1 in 3,000 chance of eating a tainted burger. Look over the course of the three years of they've been testing, and that makes it 1 in 1,000.

Hey, look at that. A tenth of one percent.

Which is 300,000 people in the U.S.

Of course, not every burger that comes from that cow will be infected. Not every person who eats an infected burger will contract the illness. And so on. That will reduce the number considerably - we shouldn't make the error of panicking either; the actual death rate will be much, much lower than that. But still.

Food-borne diseases cause 76 million illnesses in the U.S. each year. Most are minor. Some are not.
posted by kyrademon at 2:44 PM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


i actually worked with a guy who died of CJD. at the time, the theory was he'd contracted it from tainted beef he ate while traveling abroad. coincidentally, it happened right after my wife and i returned from a trip to germany during the height of the european mad cow disease panic. i had already been thinking about swearing off red meat during my trip (because i don't really consider eating red meat a good idea anyway, for a variety of reasons, and my younger sister, who's german, kept harping on how dangerous it was). when my coworker died of CJD, and our boss called a general staff meeting to explain the circumstances surrounding his death (and incidentally, advised us not to talk to members of the press if any showed up around the office, in deference to my co-worker's grieving family), i decided it would be better not to eat red meat anymore. my wife decided to join me in swearing off red meat, too.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:21 PM on May 31, 2007


Totally outrageous. Thanks for the post.
posted by nickyskye at 4:09 PM on May 31, 2007


JeNeSaisQuoi

I think that skeptic article is more fairy-land contrarian than genuine skeptic. For example, it assumes that because unenforced farming regs specify X, that nothing other than X is the actual real-world practice. That kind of gullible naivety is not "skepticism" in any meaning of the word that I learned. Under this fairyland logic, it's quite true that BSE cows can infect neither other cows nor people, but we, unfortunately, are stuck living in the real world.

It pointedly marks the fact that vCJD cases in the UK have peaked at a few hundred and are declining, yet makes no mention that this puzzles many experts, not just hysterical media, as the expected dormancy period suggests the peak should come many years in the future, with some now suspecting that what we've seen so far is those with a genetic susceptibility to their infection becoming an early wave. Until it's twenty years from now, we won't know, but brushing expert concerns under the mat is not useful.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:56 PM on May 31, 2007


I think what they are arguing is not an unsubstanciated relationship between BSE-tested and BSE-free but that "BSE-tested=vCJD-free" is a claim that the FDA/USDA have not ruled as acurate and thus advertisable.

This doesn't account for it either - even assuming the USDA won't like vCJD to BSE, the possibility that Creekstone's marketing might, at some time in the future, breach regulation by advertised "vCJD free" instead of "BSE free", should never be grounds to prevent Creekstone from testing their cattle so that they can advertise "BSE free".

Jim Bob's Cattle-fed-Cattle Inc. can falsely make the "vCJD free" claim right now, having done no testing at all. Testing does not imply false advertising, nor does lack of testing imply true advertising. I think this is just another of the BS excuses dreamed up to cover the real reason for the opposition.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:08 PM on May 31, 2007


There's an impression amoung some that testing is like it is on Star Trek, instant and no cost, that the only reason for not doing more is intransigence. There are practical reasons why more isn't being done---it would cost a shed-load of money and there aren't enough people to do it.

It would take years to ramp up capacity using the current test protocol. University admissions are up, but numbers of science admissions are down.



For those not aware, Creekstone has already paid for and constructed the new testing facilities, and has already had its employees trained overseas in how to do the testing, and able to staff the new facility.

There are not years to ramp up capacity, Creekstone has already ramped up its capacity, and already paid the bill for doing this, only to be detained at the eleventh hour on a technicality from the USDA (which is almost certainly acting on behalf of political contributors, rather than in the interests of the people of the USA).
posted by -harlequin- at 6:19 PM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


By the way, you know who wants to do this: McDonald's.

I imagine that if it's discovered that McDonalds has been feeding BSE-infected meats to people, the lawsuit will be record-breaking and corporate-destroying.

Perhaps the key to success is to bypass government and go straight to the real power: corporations. Start petitioning McD's to use only certified BSE-free meat.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:47 PM on May 31, 2007


I might also note that some producers are having a hell of a time getting out word that their agricultural product is non-GM.

Which is to say, they aren't allowed to say it at all. Can't advertise that your milk is BGH-free. Can't say your corn isn't GMd.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:54 PM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Trashing Organic Standards
posted by homunculus at 9:11 PM on May 31, 2007


Scary links, hom. It'll come around to bite us in the ass. Always, always does.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:19 AM on June 1, 2007


“It just amazes me that conservatives would even consider agreeing with the Administration on this.”

Amazes me the disconnect between “conservatives” who support everything the Bush administration does and conservatives who see the government meddling in market forces that would otherwise help the country (e.g. voluntary testing).
+ what TBM sed.

Reminds me of the Colbert bit: “What’s this stupid idea in this book that ‘x.’ Why isn’t Bush stopping this?”
Guest: “Actually, that’s President Bush’s plan.”
Colbert: “I saw a great idea in this book that ‘x’. Why are the Democrats holding it up?”

And yeah, Jurgis Rudkus.

But testing, etc. is expensive like gas is - because we didn’t start fixing the problem 30+ years ago. Gosh, I wonder if someone is profiting from the deal being rigged this way?
We had a ‘gas shortage’ in the 70s. Think people started going into alternative fuels/energy souces? Nope.
So now when the gun is at our head and we have to make changes it’s going to cost us an arm and a leg because the infrastructure isn’t in place - never mind the technology. I could build a cold fusion generator tomorrow (uh, hypothetically) and without broad support it goes nowhere. That’s not “500 mpg carburetor” conspiracy non-sense. It’s what happened to the mass transit infrastructure.
Same thing here, no checks in place, no system, and no matter how swell or how cheap your testing is, you’re going to hit a big big wall and it will hurt really bad before the change is made.
And really - slow change is the thing. Methodical paced planned for change vs. radicalism (which is what the Bush admin is - considering the vast and rapid changes they’ve made).
And those people that support them aren’t conservatives - hell, I doubt they have an ethos beyond radical self-serving materialism.
What kind of man who supports ANY moral principle at all would knowingly allow this?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:10 PM on June 1, 2007


In other news: China has cornered the global market for vitamins
posted by homunculus at 4:35 PM on June 1, 2007


Now this is the way to achieve product safety:
Issues of food and drug safety ripple across China today. The former chief of the state Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, was given the death sentence Tuesday for taking $832,000 in bribes to let unsafe drugs on the market. One Zheng aide was sentenced to a 15-year jail term last autumn, and a second was accused in May in the bribery scandal.
Indeed, I'll bet government reform over here in the west would take place pretty damn quick if we gave the death penalty to a few of the corrupt bigwigs who've been busted this past year.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:02 PM on June 1, 2007


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