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USDA Trying to Downplay Spread of Mad Cow Disease in America

Mad cow disease was recently confirmed in a cow in Alabama, according to two tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even so, the USDA seems just as reluctant as usual to admit that U.S. herds continue to be infected with mad cow disease. Even though the results of this second test have been announced, there is a whole lot of spin from the USDA on trying to suppress the severity of this news -- so let me translate it into plain English for you.

First, this positive result is from the second test conducted on this particular cow in Alabama. The first test also produced a positive result, but it was a less precise test -- one that's faster and less expensive to conduct. When the first test produced a positive result, the USDA declared it to be "inconclusive" -- that's USDA doublespeak for the word "positive." They call it inconclusive because they don't want to use the word "positive" anywhere near mad cow disease.

But you'll notice that the USDA never proclaims a negative result on this initial low-cost screening to be inconclusive -- it's simply called "negative" and it doesn't bother with any other testing. In other words, this testing system is frighteningly unscientific. If the first test is so inaccurate as to be considered inconclusive by the USDA, then how does it know that a negative result on the first test is sound?

Perhaps a negative result is also inconclusive and this test is completely useless. On the other hand, if the test is useful -- that is, if it is accurate enough to be able to declare a cow free of mad cow disease -- then why is it called inconclusive when a cow tests positive?

The answer, of course, has nothing to do with science but everything to do with food politics and USDA efforts to protect the U.S. beef industry. In fact, many of the top people who work at the USDA used to be key executives, public relations people or marketing people working for various meat industry groups in the United States. It's no surprise that they would want to protect the industry they are supposed to be regulating.

The absurd theory of spontaneous mad cow disease

The second big deception about all of this is found in the USDA claiming that this disease is somehow isolated to only those few cows that have tested positive following two different mad cow disease tests. The USDA also goes out of its way to emphasize that these cows are "nonambulatory," or non-walking cows. In other words, they are cows that were obviously sick or diseased, and should not be used to produce meat that enters the food supply. This particular cow in Alabama that tested positive is twice described as a nonambulatory cow.

The big lie in all of this is the idea that one cow can spontaneously produce mad cow disease. Mad cow disease is not a spontaneous disease that just appears out of nowhere in the brain tissues of some mammal. It is a contagious disease and it can only be acquired by eating food that is contaminated with these malformed proteins characteristic of mad cow disease, or CJD in humans (Creutzfeld-Jacobson's Disease).

This cow, in order for it to have acquired mad cow disease -- whether or not it was ambulatory -- had to be exposed to feed in which these mad cow disease proteins were present.

Here is an important question: Does this one cow have its own special meals prepared for it by the owner of the ranch? No, of course not. This cow shares food with all the other cows. Whatever was in the feed that gave this cow mad cow disease was almost certainly present in the rest of the feed that the other cows were consuming -- thus the risk of exposure to mad cow disease by the other cows in the same herd could be very high. It makes sense, then, to test the other cows for mad cow disease not just once, but twice, using the more precise test.

Outlawing safety tests

This testing, however, is not being done under orders of the USDA, which has refused to even let cattle ranchers test their own cows for mad cow disease. The USDA likes to dig a hole in the sand and stick its head in deep and imagine that mad cow disease doesn't exist in U.S. herds at all -- except in a few cows that it apparently believes have spontaneously contracted mad cow disease from some miraculous phenomenon.

It could be that this particular cow in Alabama acquired the disease somewhere else and then was sold to the Alabama ranch -- but that only worsens the problem because that widens the scope of possible contamination. If this cow came from somewhere else, then what about the other cows from that location? And how many cows were sent out to various ranches all across the country from that previous location?

We never see any additional testing being done on the cows that share the same food as an infected cow. It's almost as if the USDA wants people to believe that mad cow disease is like brain cancer: Some people get it, some people don't -- and we don't know why. But it's nothing like that. Mad cow disease is contagious and it is almost always acquired through exposure to contaminated feed.

That's how humans get mad cow disease -- by eating contaminated nerve tissue in cow meat products like hot dogs, salami, pepperoni and so forth. Infected cow meat then infects humans and causes their brains to literally turn to a grey mush.

You want to know the cold hard truth about mad cow disease that the USDA hopes you never find out? Here it is, plain and simple: This disease is endemic in U.S. herds. It is circulating in cows right now and there are almost certainly cows infected with mad cow disease that are being slaughtered and used in the human food supply. I believe that people who eat red meat today are potentially exposing themselves to mad cow disease. America's herds are not entirely safe and mandatory testing of all cows is not being done. In fact, mandatory testing is not even being supported by the USDA.

Trust us, we're the government

The official position of the USDA is that we should all just have faith in the idea that U.S. cows have no such disease -- but we shouldn't actually conduct tests to find out whether that faith is misplaced. We should just trust the USDA and go on eating and buying all the meat we want, because government officials tell us that the entire food supply is completely safe. Some U.S. cattle ranchers have threatened to conduct their own mad cow tests to be able to certify their beef as the being free of mad cow disease, and they have been stopped by the USDA, which has threatened to sue them for conducting these safety tests. Astounding, but true. That's how badly the USDA wants to keep this issue in the dark, it seems. Information is dangerous when sales of beef are at risk.

One thing you can count on is that you -- consumers in the United States -- will continue to be kept in the dark until the number of people infected and dying from mad cow disease is too large to cover up. These actions by the USDA, by the way, may ultimately lead to the temporary collapse of the U.S. cattle industry. By covering up the truth about mad cow disease and refusing to test all cows for this disease, the USDA is sowing the seeds of destruction for the entire industry.

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