Mad, bad and dangerous for cows and humans Intensive stock raising means society may pay price

Mad, bad and dangerous for cows and humans
Intensive stock raising means society may pay price

July 23, 2001 Kathimerini (Athens) by Yiannis Elafros

A few months ago, when the Agriculture Ministry and other authorities announced "there is no problem with 'mad cows' in Greece," many interpreted this to mean that there were no inspections for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Greece. Some months later, the first case was found. In the era of globalization, when 70 percent of meat consumed, local cattle and animal feed are imported, it would be absurd to believe Greece was immune to the problem.

The afflicted animal from Pontoiraklia in Kilkis may have done us a favor by bringing the problem of inadequate inspections to the fore, particularly the total lack of inspections when animals are imported. The fact that the animal was born and raised in Greece raises even more serious questions than the fact that it contracted the disease. Had it done so from eating animal meal and if so, had it done so in the past, or now, when animal meal has been prohibited? Or was there some other cause? There are many questions, even more rumors, and there have been reports of cases in other areas.

The Kilkis case is just the tip of the iceberg. Although stock raising and farming in Greece are on a far smaller scale than in other parts of Europe, they are still guided by the same logic of intensive production. This system has given rise to a series of problems, including battery chickens cooped up so closely they attack one another, feed containing dioxins from motor oil, BSE, and pigs fed on hormones.

At a recent meeting at the French Institute of Athens, when French activist Jose Bove presented his proposal for "agriculture and stock raising based on the land, on the soil," he was asked what he meant, as if there could be no other way. Yet in the Netherlands, for instance, there are multistory stables where hundreds of cows are kept completely immobile in cells and fed until they are slaughtered. If they were raised even on a limited free-range basis, they would require an area three times the size of the Netherlands.

The underlying problem is that food production is treated purely as a commercial proposition, where profits must be made and costs reduced. At the same time, the development of large meat, dairy produce, animal feed and chemical farms and factories has become an extremely profitable and powerful sector of the economy which is moving further and further away from natural methods of production and reproduction. The consequences are incalculable. It was the use of animal meal to feed cattle, in order to fatten them faster, that introduced BSE into cattle.

Taking risks is part of modern business culture, but in this case the public takes the risks and the companies rake in the profits. In January this year, the newspapers Liberation and El Pais disclosed an official document dated October 12, 1990 from the European Commission, which included the following comments: "The problem of BSE must be downplayed by means of disinformation... We must keep a low profile and not provoke reactions that might harm the market." It is no wonder that consumers are distrustful.

Many scientists believe that the consequences of BSE across Europe are still ahead of us, since the disease takes a very long time to incubate in humans. And it is unlikely to be the only food-related epidemic of the future.

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