Mad Cow Disease, officially called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), has reared its ugly head again. According to a USDA press release issued on April 24, 2012, the USDA confirmed a case of BSE in a cow in central California. According to CNN, this finding has led one major South Korean beef purchaser to temporarily suspend its purchases of U.S. beef.
BSE is a fatal disease that infects cows, but it can cause a related fatal illness in humans. So far, both BSE and the human form of the disease have been largely isolated to the most industrialized regions of the world–U.S., Canada, western Europe, and Japan.
The conventional beef industry is largely to blame for creating the disease, which is generally caused by including cow parts in the feed of other cows. Such practice does not occur on small farms, which are much more likely to allow cows to eat their natural diet of grass.
In addition, a cow with any illness in the conventional beef industry is a substantial threat to consumer safety. In the conventional system, meat from hundreds or thousands of cows is combined to make ground beef, so meat from one sick cow is disbursed over many thousands of packaged products, making it difficult or impossible to track. In contrast, when a small farm slaughters a cow to make ground beef, it likely will slaughter only one cow at a time and will not combine the meat of various cows, thereby making the meat much easier to track.
Because of this heightened safety threat of the conventional beef industry, you’d think that the USDA would be clamping down on it and proclaiming to the public the inherent dangers of the conventional industry’s practices that have created BSE and allowed it to surface again. It is not. Rather, it is doing the exact opposite! It is acting quickly and aggressively to minimize the damage to the beef industry and to bolster public confidence in the industry’s and government’s so-called ”safety” procedures.
Consider the following statements by various high level USDA representatives in response to this newest threat:
- “The beef and dairy in the American food supply is safe and USDA remains confident in the health of U.S. cattle.”
- The systems and safeguards in place to protect animal and human health worked as planned.”
- “USDA has no reason to believe that any other U.S. animals are currently affected.”
- “[The infected cow] was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health.”
- “The United States has had longstanding interlocking safeguards to protect human and animal health against BSE.”
- “Evidence shows that our systems and safeguards to prevent BSE are working, as are similar actions taken by countries around the world.”
- “This detection should not affect U.S. trade.”
- “USDA remains confident in the health of the national herd and the safety of beef and dairy products.”
- “A case of [BSE] is not a reason for significant concern on the part of consumers.”
In contrast, when the food of one small farmer or retailer is found to be contaminated with anything, watch out. Rather than the USDA rushing to issue statements and public assurances to help the small farmer to protect his reputation and business, the USDA, FDA, or a state agency rushes to inflict humiliating punishment. Such punishment often takes the form of injunctions, arrests, inventory seizures, and SWAT-style armed raids. And rather than the mainstream media proclaiming the environmental and health virtues of small farming practices, it gives muted lip service to the farmer’s position while otherwise loudly parroting the USDA’s demonizing of the farmer and his livelihood.
This kind of extreme punishment of small farmers occurs even when the contamination is unproven, when the resulting illness would be mild and non-fatal, and when no consumer complaints have been reported.
In short, our government takes every opportunity at its disposal to use its unlimited resources to defend big industry–the very industry whose practices are inherently unsafe. And not only does it NOT provide such defense to small farmers, it uses that same overwhelming power to punish small farmers, whose practices are usually inherently safe.
Although the USDA leads the public to believe that it cares about food safety, it’s conduct strongly indicates otherwise. The USDA exists to help only the big guys.
For the USDA and others in our government, size matters.
food, mad cow disease, nutrition, politics