Mad Cow Disease Hits Home

By Staff
article image
Photo courtesy Fotolia/swisshippo
Cattle continue to be at risk or contracting mad cow disease from feed because high-protein bovine blood is used in the ""milk replacer"" routinely fed to dairy calves, and sometimes to beef-breed calves, too.

Fifteen years after Great Britain began destroying 3.7
million cattle because of an epidemic of mad cow disease,
the first U.S. case of mad cow was confirmed in December in
Washington state. The infected cow already had been
slaughtered, and its meat dispersed into the human food

Initially, the USDA reported the cow was a
“downer”–an animal too sick to walk, which is a
possible sign of mad cow infection–but subsequent
eyewitness reports have disputed that claim. Determining
the animal’s status is important because downers are
targeted in the USDA’s mad cow surveillance plan.

Mad cow (also called BSE or bovine spongiform
encephalopathy) is a fatal cattle disease that causes
spongelike holes in the brain, making the infected animal
stagger–thus the descriptive term “mad” cow.
Scientists think animals develop the disease by eating feed
containing brains, spinal cords or central nervous system
tissues of other infected animals. (Yes, our industrial
food system has been feeding cattle parts back to cattle!
For more on this topic, see “Cattle Futures,” Page 24.)

The human form of this disease is called variant
Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), and relatively few people
are thought to have been infected by eating nervous-system
tissue from diseased cattle. Mad cow and vCJD are caused by
prions, infectious protein particles that cannot be
destroyed by cooking. According to the USDA, the risk of
humans contracting the disease by eating U.S. beef is
extremely low, but consumer groups say the agency is not
doing enough to protect the public. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention so far confirm 153 cases of vCJD
worldwide, with 143 of those in the United Kingdom.

Since the outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s in
Europe, consumer groups have urged the USDA to adopt
stringent testing and tracking rules for beef. But, the
beef industry resisted. A week after the U.S. mad cow case
was confirmed, the USDA finally announced it would
implement a national identification system to track meat,
and ban downer cattle and mechanically separated meat from
the human food supply. Beef producers also must follow new,
more-stringent guidelines when using Advanced Meat Recovery
(AMR) systems. AMR systems strip meat dose to the spinal
cord and increase the odds that BSE-infected
central-nervous tissue could enter the human food supply.

Three-quarters of processing plants that use AMR systems
produce meat containing spinal-cord tissue, a 2002 USDA
study estimates. Ground-beef products such as hot dogs and
hamburger (including pizza toppings and taco fillings) are
most likely to contain stripped meat. Marrow in the bones
of muscle cuts could contain spinal cord tissue, too. Milk
and milk products are not thought to be at risk of

Dr. Michael Greger, a physician with the Organic Consumers
Association, says the new regulations still aren’t enough
to protect consumers, and the most glaring omission is the
lack of adequate BSE testing of live cattle. During the
last 14 years, he says, the USDA tested only about 57,000
cattle (every year, 36 million cattle are slaughtered in
this country). “We’re barely testing even the highest-risk
animals,” he says.

Track Mad Cow Developments

Organic Consumers Association:
Center for Science in the Public Interest:
Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE):

Greger also says the USDA needs to eliminate the use of
beef remnants in all livestock and pet feeds. In 1997, the
FDA banned the practice in cattle feed, but Greger says the
law is too loosely enforced and does not include other
animal feeds.

Marion Nestle, author of Safe Food and Food
and professor of nutrition and food studies
at New York University, recommends boycotting beef as a
political statement. “It’s the only way to send a message
to these powerful forces,” she says. “[The USDA] knew what
needed to be done and didn’t do it. Consumers need to start
demanding food safety in this country.”

If you do opt to eat beef, certified organic is your safest
option–federal organic standards prohibit the use of
animal byproducts in organic feeds.

– Lindsey Hodel

Prius Paves the Way for a Hybrid Future

Get behind the wheel of a 2004 Toyota Prius (shown at
right) and “you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.” So say
the editors of Motor Trend magazine, who gave
Toyota’s redesigned gas/electric hybrid their “2004 Car of
the Year” award. The editors did not hesitate to grant the
Prius their prestigious award, praising it as a
comfortable, fun-to-drive car that just happens to get
spectacular fuel economy–up to 60 miles per gallon.

There are no penalties for the Prius’ environmental
consciousness–that’s its magic, Motor Trend
editors say. The Prius has swift acceleration (zero to 60
mph in 9.8 seconds), room for five passengers, numerous
conveniences standard and impressive engineering that gives
the hybrid a smooth performance barely distinguishable from
traditional gas-engine vehicles. The Motor Trend
editors say the 2004 Prius is the first hybrid that auto
enthusiasts can enjoy: “It provides a tantalizing preview
of a future where extreme fuel-efficiency, ultra-low
emissions and stirring performance will happily coexist in
one package.”

Consumers, too, are giving the Prius fanfare. Since its
late 2003 introduction, sales have outpaced
production–at press time there were about 15,000
outstanding orders, creating a waiting list of about four
months, although increased production should catch up to
demand this spring. Toyota plans to produce 47,000 units in
2004 just to meet demand. And the improved 2004
Prius–with more power, more room and improved fuel
economy–won’t cost you more than its predecessor: The
base price remains at $19,995. Plus, if you bought a hybrid
before 2004, you are eligible for a $2,000 tax deduction;
buy a hybrid this year and you are eligible for a $1,500
deduction. This benefit ends after 2005, but the Bush
administration has proposed continued and higher tax
credits for hybrids. For more information, visit .

As significant as the Prius’ success is, it is just the
beginning for hybrid vehicles. A deluge of hybrid
announcements has come from the auto industry in the first
half of 2004, particularly regarding trucks and SUVs.
Highlights include:

The first luxury hybrid, the Lexus RX 400h, arrives later
this year. Lexus, a division of Toyota, estimates the
hybrid midsize SUV will get an average fuel economy of 27.6
•Toyota will release a hybrid version of its Highlander
SUV in 2005. Toyota says the seven-passenger Highlander
Hybrid will travel 600 miles on one tank of gas, with more
horsepower and quicker acceleration than its gas-engine
• In late 2004, Honda will release a hybrid
version of its best-selling Accord. It will deliver more
horsepower than the traditional Accord, while achieving the
fuel economy of a smaller compact car.
• Mercedes-Benz
announced a prototype of the world’s first diesel/electric
hybrid, the Vision Grand Sports Tourer. The diesel engine
and electric motor combination will deliver up to 318
• Despite delays, Ford may be the first domestic
automaker to release a hybrid. Production of the hybrid
version of its Escape SUV is slated to begin in July.

•General Motors plans to use hybrid technology to improve
the fuel efficiency of its trucks and SUVs by about 30
percent the world’s largest automaker says that is a more
economically sound and environmentally positive strategy
than putting hybrid technology in less-expensive cars that
already have high fuel economies. The first hybrid trucks,
the GMC Siena and Chevrolet Silverado, may go on sale later
this year.

–John Rockhold

sprouts & snippets

Asking Questions First.
San Franciscans are choosing to be safe rather than sorry.
The city is the first in the United States to adopt an
environmental code based upon the Precautionary Principle
that calls for full evaluation of environmental
repercussions before a potentially hazardous project can be
pursued. According to the Environmental Working Group, San
Francisco’s new policy is making the chemical industry
nervous that this common sense approach may be adopted more
widely. For more information, go to .

Get E from Sunflower

A third of all Americans don’t get enough Vitamin E in
their diet, according to the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration. Vitamin E, an antioxidant, is thought to
prevent and control chronic disease, including heart
disease. You can increase your Vitamin E intake by eating
sunflower seeds. At 14 mg per ounce, sunflower seeds pack
more Vitamin E than any other food source. A healthy
handful can provide the daily recommended amount–a
tasty 15 mg.

Nuclear Power

Germany, the largest industrial nation to renounce nuclear
energy, shut off a 32-year-old, 660-megawatt nuclear
reactor late last year. The move is the first step in an
agreement between the German government and the nation’s
nuclear industry. In a gradual process, all 19 German
nuclear facilities, which provide one-third of Germany’s
electricity, will power down by 2025. Both renewable and
fossil-fuel energy sources will compensate for the deficit.
Meanwhile, the United States, France and Japan, nations
with the most reactors, remain committed to the
controversial energy source. Power from 104 reactors
accounts for 20 percent of U.S. electricity. France relies
on 59 reactors for 77 percent of its energy, and Japan,
with 53 operating reactors, plans to build 12 more.

Mother Earth News