U.S. Violates World Health Organization Guidelines for Mad Cow Disease:
A Comparison of North American and European Safeguards
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association describes government and industry efforts to safeguard the American public from mad cow disease as
"swift," "decisive" and "aggressive." The US Secretary of Agriculture adds "diligent," "vigilant" and "strong." The world's
authority on these diseases disagrees.
Dr. Stanley Prusiner is the scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions, the infectious agents thought to cause bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. The word Dr. Prusiner uses to describe the efforts of the U.S. government and the cattle industry
is "terrible." What are these "stringent protective measures" that the Cattlemen's Association is talking about, and how do they compare to
global standards and internationally recognized guidelines?
In 1996, in response to the revelation that young people in Britain were dying from variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human equivalent of
mad cow disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued seven "Recommendations." Numbers 5-7 were observations and/or recommendations for
further research. The first four recommendations, however, were concrete proscriptions to reduce the likelihood of mad cow disease spreading to human
populations. To this day, the United States government continues to violate each and every one of these four guidelines.
Since 1996, the World Health Organization has recommended that all countries stop feeding prion infected animals to other animals, yet the U.S.
government continues to allow deer infected with chronic wasting disease to be rendered into animal feed, and the industry continues to oppose
any proposed change in the law.
Since 1996, the World Health Organization has recommended that all countries test their downer cattle for mad cow disease, yet the U.S. government
continues to test but a tiny fraction of this high risk population. The beef industry calls U.S. surveillance "aggressive" and doesn't think more
testing is necessary. The world's authority on these diseases just calls it "appalling."
Since 1996, the World Health Organization has recommended that all countries remove beef products containing risky organs like spinal cord from the
human food supply. The U.S. government continues to refuse to implement such a measure, and the industry continues to oppose it, referring to such
products as nothing but "wholesome."
Since 1996, the World Health Organization has recommended that all countries stop feeding risky cattle organs like brains to all livestock. The U.S.
government is considering it. The American Meat Institute, and 14 other industry groups remain vocally opposed.
And, Since 1996, the World Health Organization has recommended that all countries stop feeding any remains of cows to cows, yet the U.S. government
still allows dairy farmers to feed calves gallons worth of cow blood and fat collected at the slaughterhouse. Industry representatives continue
to actively support this practice.
In 2002, the USDA requested feedback on a number of options for further preventive measures, including a total ban on allowing the brains and spinal
cords from downer cattle in the human food supply. The spokesperson for the American Meat Institute explained that the meatpacking industry would
take a "significant hit" financially if the USDA enacted such a proposal.
The American Meat Institute explained that spinal cords pose no health risk, "because the U.S. is BSE-free." Despite grossly inadequate
surveillance for the disease, when asked if we have BSE in U.S. cattle, the American Meat Institute in 2002 emphatically replied, "No, BSE is a
foreign animal disease." They stressed that, "The fact that we share no physical borders with any affected nations has been a key means of
protecting our cattle."
Now that mad cow disease has been discovered in North America, the USDA should immediately enact measures to prevent human exposure by issuing an
emergency interim rule to ban products that may contain the agent that causes mad cow disease. So far, though, according to an agency
spokesperson, the USDA isn't even discussing plans to increase testing for the disease.
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