VegSource Interactive, Inc. | Mad Cow Disease
U.S. Ate 777 Mad Cows
Adapted from a report by Larry Walker at Rangebiome.org
March 16, 2006 -- The United States has lagged far behind the rest of the world when it comes to testing for mad cow disease. This is primarily because the USDA is run by people looking out for meat industry interests, rather than the public's interests. Like most U.S. government agencies these days, the USDA is run by officials from the industries they are supposed to be regulating, in this case the meat, dairy and processed food industry.
Despite USDA best efforts to test as few cows as possible, mad cow has been discovered repeatedly in the U.S. herd. (For years the U.S. tested only only one out of every 18,000 cows slaughtered, while European countries were testing one out of every three cows, or in many cases -- every cow.)
The USDA says it isn't testing for mad cow as a protective measure to the population, they are testing simply to "surveil" how widespread the problem may be. In other words, they're not testing to prevent infected cows from entering the food chain as many other countries do, they just want to get an estimate of how many mad cows are likely in the U.S. food chain.
The answer, from their own testing, is now available: statistically, there have been at least 777 cows with mad cow disease which have probably entered the food chain since U.S. testing began.
To arrive at this number is simply a matter of mathematics.
According to USDA figures, since U.S. began testing for mad cow 8 years ago, we have tested about 773,000 cows.
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Only in the most recent few years did the U.S. begin testing using the more sensitive tests which have long been widely used in the rest of the world.Since that time, the more sensitive testing has discovered at least three mad cows in the U.S. herd. (The term "at least" applies here because there are many cases of suspect U.S. mad cows where after getting positive results, samples from the cows in question were "lost" or "compromised" by USDA labs, and so without proper samples for additional tests by independent labs, the USDA simply ruled them "negative." There have also been multiple cases of cows suspected of having mad cow being destroyed or "lost" by USDA representatives before required USDA testing could be performed.)
Based on three known mad cows out of the approximately 773,000 cows tested to date in the U.S., we know that 0.0000039% of cows tested in the U.S. herd are infected with mad cow disease.
An estimated 25 million cattle are slaughtered in the U.S. each year, so during the eight years of the sketchy U.S. testing program, approximately 200 million cattle have been slaughtered.
Applying the known mad cow rate in the tested sample of 0.0000039% to the total of 200 million US cattle slaughtered in eight years -- reveals that there were probably 780 mad cows in the U.S. herd during the past 8 years. Subtracting the three cows actually identified by the testing, this means that there were 777 other mad cows which were slaughtered in the U.S. since testing began, but which were not tested for and therefore not detected.
Since flesh from many different cows is mixed together when making hamburger meat, the number of possible consumers exposed to mad cow material is very difficult to estimate.
The North/South distribution of mad cows in the U.S. has been from Washington State to Texas, and East/West distribution is from Alabama to Washington state (basically the North/South and East/West borders of the U.S. cattle industry).
The type of cows found to have mad cow in the USDA results to date were: 1 dairy cow, 2 beef cows.
In an article today for United Press International, science reporter Steve Mitchell writes:
So is the actual number of mad cows in the U.S. food chain lower than the 777 which we might extrapolate from information USDA has released to date? Or is it higher, or maybe much higher -- possibly explaining why USDA refuses to publicly divulge its testing results?
Based on USDA statistics which have been published, the following chart shows how long it takes to discover mad cow in the U.S. herd, based on the testing rates employed by USDA. Again, these are extrapolating from actual USDA results, and do not include the various suspected mad cow cases which USDA refused to test:
What the above chart shows is that at the current U.S. testing rate of 1.11% of cattle slaughtered, the U.S. can statistically expect to find another mad cow every 4 to 12 months, as we have since going on the "enhanced" testing rate. If the USDA scales back the amount of cattle tested daily, it can expect to slow the rate of discovery of infected cattle since you have to test a certain number in order to find the next one.
Coincidentally, the USDA has recently announced it will scale back the testing rate, from about 1,000 per day to 110 per day. By doing so, statistically it should take between 3 and 9 years to detect the next U.S. mad cow, rather than the current rate of one infected cow each 4 to 12 months.
Scaling back the testing for mad cow makes sense from the beef industry/USDA perspective. It is a bit of a public relations problem for McDonald's and the cattle industry in general when the rate of mad cow discovery gets too frequent, as the public starts being reminded too frequently that the U.S. herd is infected with this fatal disease.
For the public to be reminded one to three times a year that it may be eating beef which contains a brain-wasting disease similar to Alzheimer's (and often mistaken for Alzheimer's) is problematic to the sale of beef and beef products. Hence, the USDA won't continue current testing levels lest it cause more problems for the beef industry.
If the U.S. were using the same testing rates and methods as every other major democratic government in the world, it would be interesting to see where the U.S. stacks up in terms of herd infection. But this is the last thing the USDA wants the public thinking about.
In her book, Safe Food, Professor Marion Nestle, Chair of the Nutrition Department at New York University, and author of the Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition under C. Everett Koop MD, writes:
It is a tribute to the current money-driven, lobbyist-tainted, corrupt, corporate-controlled U.S. government that the U.S. beef industry can currently dictate health policy for U.S. citizens. Of course, the government cannot get away with duping the public in a democracy without the complicity of a corporate-controlled media, which is why you won't see exposes like this one on CNN or in the New York Times.