By Dr. Mercola
Mad Cow Disease (the common term for Bovine Spongiform Encepholopathy (BSE) made headlines once again in April 2012, when a dairy cow at a rendering facility in California was found to have the disease.
BSE, a progressive neurological disorder of cattle that can be transmitted to other species, including humans (in people it's called Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease) is a devastating condition that typically leads to progressive dementia and death, often within a year of the onset of symptoms.
One of the primary ways Mad Cow Disease is transmitted is when cows are fed bone meal and waste products from other cattle infected with the disease.
As a result, it's now illegal to feed beef-based products to cows ... but the beef industry has found ways to circumvent this rule by using a feed product known as "chicken litter."
Cows Fed "Chicken Litter" May be Indirectly Eating Parts From Cows
Chicken litter, a rendered down mix of chicken manure, dead chickens, feathers and spilled feed, is marketed as a cheap feed product for cows. The beef industry likes it because it's cheaper than even corn and soy, so an estimated 2 BILLION pounds are purchased each year; yes, this is a very serious amount of this product being fed to animals.
As if the idea of your burger being the product of manure and feathers isn't unsettling enough, about one-third of the chicken litter concoction is spilled feed, which includes cow meat and bone meal often used to feed chickens but which is supposed to be off limits for cows.
However, any cow that eats chicken litter may also be consuming various beef products intended for chickens – the very same feed products that spurred the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in the first place! And it's not only the spilled feed that's the problem; the infectious agent can also be passed through the chicken manure as well.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:i
"The primary animal-health protective measure [against Mad Cow Disease] is a feed ban. In 1997, the FDA implemented regulations that prohibit the feeding of most mammalian proteins to ruminants, including cattle. This feed ban is the most important measure to prevent the transmission of the disease to cattle. The feed ban was strengthened in 2008, by additional prohibitions on those tissues that have the highest risk of transmitting BSE. These additions to the feed ban prohibit the use of brain and spinal cord from cattle 30 months of age and older for use in any animal feed."
It sounds like once again profits have won out over public safety, and while cases worldwide have declined dramatically (from a peak of 37,311 cases in 1992 to 29 cases in 2011), allowing cow parts back into cattle feed, albeit indirectly, could easily reverse this progress.
That is, if progress has really been made. In Europe, all older cattle are tested for Mad Cow Disease, and in Japan every cow slaughtered for human consumption is tested, a move that experts say would add just pennies to a pound of beef if implemented in the United States.ii
But U.S. regulators are still only testing 40,000 of the 35 million cattle slaughtered annually ... it was only by happenstance that the 2012 case was detected as part of the USDA's surveillance program for cattle. Only just over 0.1 percent of U.S. cattle are tested prior to entering the food supply, so there's really no way of knowing how many cattle with Mad Cow Disease might end up on dinner plates.
USDA is Failing in Protecting Animal Feed, Americans from Mad Cow Disease
The USDA is simply not doing enough to prevent the spread of, and to detect, BSE cases. This includes not only the chicken litter feed that's commonly fed to cows, but also, according to the physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:iii
- "U.S. feed producers are blatantly violating restrictions on feed production. Despite a 1997 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on the feeding of most mammalian remains to ruminants, which unfortunately includes significant exceptions impairing the protective intent of the law, a January 2001 FDA report showed that, of 180 renderers, 16 percent lacked warning labels on feeds designed to differentiate those intended for ruminants from those for nonruminants, and 28 percent had no system to prevent the actual mixing of these feeds.
- The Government Accountability Office issued a follow up report in 2005, noting many program weaknesses in compliance inspections, including FDA's guidance for inspectors to visually examine facilities and equipment and review invoices and other documents instead of routinely sampling cattle feed to test for potentially prohibited material.
- Although the World Health Organization called for the riskiest parts of bovine tissues (i.e., brain, eyes, spinal cord, intestines) not to be used in the human food supply or in animal feed to protect from BSE, the United States still allows the feeding of these potentially risky tissues to people, pigs, pets, poultry, and fish.
- There are few restrictions on the use of animal byproducts, including blood and blood products, gelatin, milk, and milk products, in feeds through which prions may be transmitted.
- There are no limits on the use of nonruminant, such as pig or horse, remains in feeds, due to an exemption in the 1997 ban. Because prions are so difficult to destroy, if the remains of a BSE-infected cow are fed to a pig or horse and then the pig or horse remains are fed to cows, the cows may subsequently be infected. Similarly, ruminant remains can be fed to poultry and, in turn, poultry feces are routinely used in cattle feed.
- There are no limits on the "recycling" of beef or other meat products in the form of garbage from restaurants or other institutions for use in animal feeds."
What Else is Lurking in Your CAFO Beef?
There's a reason why CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) are traditionally hidden from public view, and why certain states (like Iowa, where big agriculture rules the roost economically and politically) are considering making undercover videos taken on such farms – which often show shocking scenes of animal cruelty and filth – illegal.
They don't want you to see what's really going on! If you did, there's no way most people would be able to stomach eating the meat they're producing. Here's just a short list of some of the unpleasantries that can be found in your factory-farmed burger or steak:
- Drugs and heavy metals: Residues of veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals enter the food system when producers bring animals to slaughter that still have these toxins in their system. This occurs more often than you might think.
- Antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant disease: About 80 percent of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture -- not only to fight infection, but to promote unhealthy (though profitable) weight gain. Feeding livestock continuous, low-dose antibiotics creates a perfect storm for widespread disease proliferation – and, worse yet, antibiotic-resistant disease.
- Extreme growth promoters: Ractopamine, aka Paylean and Optaflexx, is banned in 160 countries, including Europe, Taiwan and China. If imported meat is found to contain traces of the drug, it is turned away, while fines and imprisonment result for its use in banned countries. Yet, in the United States 45 percent of pigs, 30 percent of ration-fed cattle, and an unknown percentage of turkeys are pumped full of this drug in the days leading up to slaughter because it increases protein synthesis. In other words, it makes animals more muscular ... and this increases food growers' bottom line.
- Cloned animals: In 2007, the FDA released a formal recommendation to allow milk and meat from cloned animals on grocery store shelves, without labels indicating them as such. Their most recent recommendation also gives the green light to cloned animals being used for food.iv If you eat beef from conventional sources, there's a possibility you've already eaten this type of food, as some ranchers admit cloned cattle have made it into the food chain and, quite possibly, your dinner table.
Even Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack couldn't say for sure whether cloned meat was already on the market when asked whether Americans are eating unlabeled clones right now.v
It's Important to Think About Where You Get Your Meat
I realize that not everyone has the access or the resources to purchase organic, sustainably and humanely farmed pasture-raised meat. But the more of us who demand that our food standards be raised to a higher level, the faster CAFOs will be run out of business, which means safer, higher quality meat for all.
I just got back from a road trip to Joel Salatin's farm in Virginia. He is one of the leaders in this movement and we shot about four hours of video with him, which I hope to share soon. It will open your eyes to the possibility and provide a very strong incentive for you to search out local producers of high-quality food.
Your typical supermarket, even Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, are typically not going to be good resources for this. Independently owned smaller food markets may offer some better alternatives, as do many health food stores, but ideally I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area, particularly organic farms that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, non-polluting, GMO-free ecosystems.
You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs and food coops. Often you can save money this way, too, by cutting out the middleman and getting your food right from the source. Foods from small, organic farms are available in more areas than you might think. Some great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also animal welfare and the environment:
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.