I feel dirty. As if I had just wrestled with a pig.
It always happens when I research just a little bit too much. I read the one article that leads to another which leads me to yet another which paints a picture that quite simply, disturbs me.
Case in point: I’ve been reading up on Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or commonly mad cow disease). I felt it prudent, as it had been in the news of late, even over a year since the last reported instance of it being found in here in the States. I felt that if I was to talk about beef, then I owed it to at least pay this topic some lip service, at most perhaps give a decent post on the how’s and why’s.
Even at the most cursory level, it becomes rather apparent that this is a hot political issue, thanks in large part to the fact that it Mad Cow disease shows the lack of financial resources being applied to even effectively test to see how prevelant (or not) the disease has taken hold. It also helps clealy illustrate (to borrow a phrase from Christine Wenc) on how this is yet another example of “Big-Evil-Industry Trashes All It Surveys in Order to Profit a Handful of White Guys and Blanket the Earth with Cheap Consumer Goods”.
For those of you not paying attention, what you should know is this: corporate meat processing plants are under-regulated. Federal meat inspectors, as recently as December 8th or 2004, say that current USDA policies on Mad Cow threaten public health. If ever there was a product that you needed to be fully educated on before purchasing, it’d be beef. I could go in greater detail, but rather I’d recommend you read Fast Food Nation for a basic understanding of meat processing, and then read this, this and even these articles.
The point of me linking to all of these articles is not scare you. The chance of someone contracting diseases associated with BSE is small, smaller than say getting e-coli poisoning or even listeria. No, the reason for me posting these links is to ensure a more informed beef consumer. Why? Consider the table below comparing American cattle testing guidlines for BSE against the European Unions Guidelines for testing , (provided by Friends of the Earth)
How does the U.S. testing compare to the E.U. testing?
- Cattle testing:
United States -2% of high-risk downers tested; no required testing of other cattle
brought to slaughter.
European Union -100% of downers tested; 100% of all cattle over 24 months of age that are brought to slaughter.
- High-risk tissue in meat for human consumption:
United States -Brain and spinal cord tissue in 35% of low-quality meats; spinal cord may not be removed from better cuts; stunning methods drive brain tissue into lungs and body.
European Union -Brain, spinal cord, eyes and tonsils from all cattle > 12 months of age prohibited from human food supply; high-risk stunning methods banned.
- Animal feed restrictions:
United States -Partial prohibition allows cattle tissue to be fed to chickens, pigs, horses and vice versa; and cattle blood to be fed to calves.
European Union -More restrictive feed bans generally prohibit the feeding of animal tissues, whether ruminant or not, to all animals raised for food.
- Use of cattle blood as feed for calves:
United States -No prohibition; accepted industry practice.
European Union -Authorities strongly discourage the practice.
(Data comes from this pdf from the Friends of the World)
Again, my purpose here is not to dissuade people from eating beef, but to make better informed decisions when it comes to purchasing the product.
So why do I feel dirty? Because I came across a dis-information campaign. Remember that this is a highly charged political topic. If BSE were ever to be documented as being found in the US, it would play havoc with the Beef industry, an industry with a fair amount of lobbying clout, especially with the Republicans.
The disinformation comes from two sites. One BSEinfo, is run by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board & National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. They have a vested interest in their product and obviously will provide information that will make it appear as if they are doing everything they can in order to prevent an outbreak of any disease related to BSE.
The other site is called mad-cow-facts.com, and at first appears to give opinions on news events surrounding BSE, slanting their coverage in facor of the cattle associations and other corporations which support the meat processing industry. The site is funded by an organization called The Center for Global Food Issues, which appears to give it an air of authority. But further digging shows that CGFI is funded by the Hudson Institute, a neo-conservative think tank. Accoriding to Source watch, this institute has been funded by such corporations as ConAgra, McDonalds, Monsanto and other corporations infamous for putting profit over public welfare. All of these industries have a vested interest in ensuring a profitable beef industry.
When I discovered that is when I started to feel dirty.
Look, when it comes to beef, be sensible. If you’re concerned about BSE but want to still eat beef, keep the following pieces of advice in mind:
- - know your butcher: They should be able to tell you where the beef was raised and slaughtered, and will have no problem is fulfilling specific meat requests.
- - know where your beef comes from: If you have the ability to find out where your meat was processed as well as where it was raised, it will probably mean that they have stronger controls on what herds they had come from.
- - have your butcher grind your meat on site: This will prevent less mixing of carcasses, which will help prevent cross contamination
- - buy pasture/grass fed over grain fed: This lower the probability of purchasing corporate meat. This will also lower the chance that your meat comes from a cow or calf that was fed on blood.
- - purchase organic meat: This also lower the probability of purchasing corporate meat.
Most of all, know your product. I’ve said it twice in this piece, and I’ll say it one last time to drive the point home. Be a responsible consumer. Educate yourself as to what you are buying.