Where Now with Mad Cow?

By Michael Fumento

Scripps Howard News Service, January 29, 2004
Copyright 2004 Scripps Howard News Service

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CFS’s Andrew Kimbrell once filed suit against the National Park Service to prevent a biotech company from searching Yellowstone park for medicinal microbes.

The public has refused to panic over the finding of a single mad cow in the U.S. And vegetarian groups, organic food lobbyists, animal rights organizations, and self-styled "consumer protection" groups are, well, downright mad.

A Gallup Poll taken even before the reassuring news that the sick heifer was from Canada found only 6 percent surveyed labeled the event "a crisis." Another poll showed the public thought the media did well in relaying facts and thus assuaging fears. The stock values of major meat restaurant chains initially dipped then roared back.

Undaunted, activists will do whatever they can with that one Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) infected cow to advance their various agendas, notwithstanding that they could slaughter not just the beef business but the meat industry in general.

Consumer choice, sleepless nights of caring moms, and the million jobs provided by the cattle industry alone - these are not their concerns. Yet between domestic consumption and the export market, fomented false fears could cost cattle farmers alone $5.4 billion in net income this year according to the research firm Global Insight, Inc.

"Consumer protection has certainly fallen short," declares the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Making meat ’safe’ is not a realistic or attainable goal" exclaims the website of Gardenburger, maker of a semi-edible meat substitute. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, having coined the slogan "Meat Is Murder!" now declares: "It’s Mad to Eat Meat!"

Others have leapt aboard the bandwagon including Consumers Union and the Organic Consumers Association, which hopes Americans don’t know that lots of BSE-infected organically-raised cows have been found in Britain.

Leading the stampede for needless and costly regulations is the Center for Food Safety, which cares about food only to the extent it can be used to attack science and technology. Its Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell, unabashedly wrote in Ecology magazine that, "It is ever more urgent that we become heretics to the RELIGION OF SCIENCE and that we reinvent and devolve our technology." (Emphasis added.)

CFS’s last action was a failed effort to stop the sale of a genetically-engineered aquarium pet called the "GloFish" – hardly a food item unless you’re a fraternity pledge.

In the first attack in what promises to be a long and nasty campaign, CFS and friends have created a "Mad Cow Disease Prevention Platform" demanding new regulations that are as needless as they are costly.

The first is to "test all cattle over 20 months of age" for BSE. This would cost about $50 a head, or $1.75 billion a year.

Never mind that in Europe, where almost all the countries have reported multiple BSE cattle (almost 200,000 in Britain) the standard is 30 months, with 24 in Germany. That’s because BSE virtually never develops before 30 months. Why should we have a law that is so much stricter, and worthlessly so, than where they have all the mad cows?

On the other hand, Japan tests each cow it slaughters. But even the co-chief executive of the BSE testing firm Prionics AG told the Wall Street Journal, "I like to sell test kits, but [Japan’s approach is] insane."

The only reason the country can afford it is that it imports two-thirds of its beef, meaning only a third of what the Japanese eat is tested.

CFS and friends also demand that we "implement country of origin labeling of meat," called COOL, ostensibly to track imported BSE-carrying cows. Note: They don’t say "beef," they say "meat" – as if separating and labeling all hogs would protect us from mad cows.

As is, Congress has passed a COOL law that would cover meat (except poultry), seafood, and produce. It’s scheduled for implementation this year but the Agriculture Department has called for both a moratorium and changes after calculating that the cost would be frightful – perhaps $3.9 billion in the first year alone.

COOL is a marketing program, not a "food safety issue" as a representative of the American Farm Bureau Federation testified before Congress last year. If it concerned safety, why would it exempt restaurants, where 70 percent of imported meat is eaten, and provide absolutely no additional safety testing or monitoring?

The CFS version of COOL would simply drop seafood and produce out of the picture while adding in poultry and restaurant-served meat. That $3.9 billion would be chump change compared to cost of this new scheme.

So goes the entire activist BSE agenda: maximum expenditures with minimal or non-existent benefits. You’d have to be nuttier than the maddest cow to think it has the least thing to do with protecting the health of either humans or cattle.

Read Michael Fumento’s other work on diseases.