Extricating the Canadian beef industry from its American death sentence
Paul Martin   Letter 21   12-Apr-2005  

Nervousness when confronted with obstacles.  Photo and caption from Secretariat of the Pacific Community  www.spc.int/~

"A conspiracy theorist might argue that the U.S.D.A.'s voluntary testing program has been carefully designed not to find mad-cow disease." Eric Schlosser

NOTE ADDED 22-APR-2005:  Although the video "Meet Your Meat" narrated by Alec Baldwin on the PETA web site at www.petatv.com focuses on cruelty to animals, it also provides opportunity for questioning whether some or many or most of the afflicted and disabled animals which are shown being prepared for American consumption might not be suffering from Spongiform Encephalopathy:  www.petatv.com/tvpopup/Prefs.asp?video=meet_your_meat
12 April 2005

The Right Honourable Paul Martin
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON    K1A 0A2

Mr Prime Minister:

America's Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) Epidemic

A cluster of five western Kentuckians who died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) had in common the eating of squirrel brains:

Someone comes by the house with just the head of a squirrel and gives it to the matriarch of the family.  She shaves the fur off the top of the head and fries the head whole.  The skull is cracked open at the dinner table and the brains are sucked out.

Neurologist Eric Weisman quoted in Burkhard Bilger, Squirrel and man: Is a local custom worth dying for?, The New Yorker, 17-Jul-2000, p. 59.

The explanation of how eating squirrel brains can cause CJD relies on four principles:

  1. Spongiform Encephalopathy is a single disease, which today tends to be called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE).

  2. TSE occurs in all animal species, often under names which conceal that a single disease is involved.  Thus, TSE occurring in humans is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), or Kuru when it occurs among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea.  TSE occurring in cows is called Mad-Cow Disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).  TSE occurring in sheep is called Ovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (OSE), but more commonly Scrapie.  TSE occurring in deer and elk is called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  TSE occurring in cats is called Feline Spongiform Encephalopathy (FSE).  TSE occurring in mink is called Mink Spongiform Encephalopathy (MSE) or sometimes Transmissible Mink Encephalopathy (TME).  TSE occurring in squirrels might be called Mad-Squirrel Disease.  And so on.

  3. TSE recognizes no species barriers, every species being able to infect every other species.

  4. The claim that the United States is BSE-free is false.

Below is the explanation of the western-Kentucky CJD cluster which relies on the four above principles:

When the two neurologists published their Lancet letter in 1997, it drew some predictable criticism.  Squirrels have never been found to carry C.J.D., some people pointed out.  Besides, they eat only fruit and nuts, not each other's brains.  According to Weisman, however, city squirrels "go after beef products all the time like the suet people put out for birds."

Burkhard Bilger, Squirrel and man: Is a local custom worth dying for?, The New Yorker, 17-Jul-2000, p. 63.

Expressed schematically, the explanation is that American cows passed TSE along to American squirrels which passed TSE along to American humans.  A single disease, jumping from species to species, in this case starting from BSE-infected American cows.

What might surprise Canadian ranchers whom the American boycott of Canadian beef has driven to the brink of bankruptcy, or in some cases over the brink, is hearing a scientist take for granted that American cattle suffer from BSE.  This clashes somewhat with the American position which is pauperizing those Canadian ranchers that the US is free of BSE while Canada is not, and that the US must protect itself from Canadian infection by blocking imports of Canadian cattle and beef.

However, a viable hypothesis is not only that some American cattle suffer from BSE, but even that the US is in the throes of a TSE epidemic both among its cattle and among its people.  Such a hypothesis is encouraged by noting that in addition to the western-Kentuckian peculiarity of eating squirrel brains, there exists also the even more startling, and more dangerous, all-American peculiarity of annually putting into the nation's steaks and burgers 200,000 cows that are too sick to stand, and without knowing what causes them to be too sick to stand:

At the moment, downer cattle, which cannot stand on their own, are the group most likely to be tested.

Until new regulations came out in January, the U.S. annually sent roughly 200,000 downers to slaughter for human consumption.  Of these, only a fraction were tested.

Stanley B. Prusiner, Detecting Mad Cow Disease, Scientific American, July 2004, pp. 86-93, p. 91.

As for the "new regulations" cited above of what use are they when American BSE testing is voluntary and is avoided, as exemplified in the following incident?

The U.S.D.A.'s testing program is voluntary, which raises serious questions about its findings.  No meatpacking company wants the distinction of having the second American case of mad-cow disease discovered at its slaughterhouse.  On April 27, a U.S.D.A. veterinarian noticed a cow stumble and fall before entering a Lone Star Beef slaughterhouse in San Angelo, Texas.  The vet thought that the animal had some sort of central-nervous-system disorder.  But instead of being transported live to Texas A&M University for observation as the U.S.D.A.'s regional plan requires the animal was slaughtered by Lone Star Beef employees.  A U.S.D.A. technician who arrived to take a brain sample for mad-cow testing said that one of the company's vice presidents immediately called the agency's regional headquarters in Austin.  The U.S.D.A. regional director canceled the B.S.E. test, and the cow was rendered into pig feed.  The company said the animal was suffering from wheat poisoning, not a central-nervous-system disorder.  Rosemary Mucklow, executive director of the National Meat Association, responding on behalf of Lone Star Beef, said the company "cooperated fully with the requirements of the law."  The Lone Star plant in San Angelo supplies beef to McDonald's.

Eric Schlosser, Order the Fish, Vanity Fair, November 2004, pp. 240-257, pp. 255-256.

What credence can be given American government assertions that the United States is BSE-free when that government is in the pockets of powerful and unscrupulous business interests?

Since 2000, America's agribusiness firms have donated more than $140 million to candidates running for Congress and the presidency.  Almost three-quarters of that money has gone to Republicans.  So far this year, the McDonald's Corporation has given 77 percent of its political donations to Republicans; the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, 81 percent; and the National Restaurant Association, 90 percent.  In return, critics say, the Bush administration and the Republican majority in Congress have worked hard to serve these private interests at the expense of public health.

The leading fast-food chains and meatpacking companies don't want any of their customers to get sick.  But these companies also don't want to be held accountable when their food does make people sick.  For almost a century the meatpacking industry has vehemently opposed federal efforts to prevent the sale of contaminated meat.  I think that the U.S.D.A. today offers a fine example of a government agency that has been thoroughly captured and corrupted.  At a time when newly emerged pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7 and mad-cow disease threaten the nation's food supply, the U.S.D.A. has failed to adopt effective measures to test for contaminated meat, trace it, and recall it.  As a result, ordinary Americans, both Republican and Democrat, are paying the price with their health and, sometimes, their lives.

Eric Schlosser, Order the Fish, Vanity Fair, November 2004, pp. 240-257, p. 243.

It is not merely the case that the United States fails to test for BSE among suspect cows, where testing might be expected to reveal a high disease incidence which discredits the American beef industry.  Rather, it is the case that the United States so fears testing that it sometimes positively forbids it even among normal cows where a low incidence of BSE might be expected:

When Creekstone Farms, a small meatpacking company in Kansas, sought to test all its cattle for mad-cow disease, the U.S.D.A. refused to allow it.  The National Cattlemen's Beef Association strongly opposes any widespread testing for B.S.E., arguing that it's just not necessary.

Eric Schlosser, Order the Fish, Vanity Fair, November 2004, pp. 240-257, p. 243.

Who can believe American assertions that its cattle are BSE-free when America's vaunted freedom of speech stops at a line drawn by agribusiness:

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Restaurant Association, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the McDonald's Corporation, and other corporate pillars of the food industry have gone out of their way lately to promote the idea that "there are no good foods or bad foods."  And if you don't agree with that idea, there are powerful legal tools at their disposal to persuade you.  The "veggie libel laws" of more than a dozen states now allow food companies and producers to sue their critics.  Eight years ago, Oprah Winfrey was sued under such a law in Texas after suggesting that mad-cow disease might pose a threat in the U.S., and though she won her case the law still remains on the books.  In Colorado, the veggie libel law can lead to a criminal conviction.  Criticizing the ground beef produced at the Greenley slaughterhouse could get you sent to prison for up to one year.

Eric Schlosser, Order the Fish, Vanity Fair, November 2004, pp. 240-257, p. 243.

American downer cows may not only be suspected of harboring among them some TSE cases, but rather can be inferred to harbor TSE cases this from downers having triggered TSE epidemics that have wiped out American mink farms:

Downer Cows

Ataxia and hypermetria of infected cow.  Photo and caption from Secretariat of the Pacific Community  www.spc.int/~

A year before BSE was even reported in Britain, Richard Marsh, Chairman of the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was alerting dairy practitioners of the possibility that a, "previously unrecognized scrapie-like disease in cattle" existed in the United States (Marsh, 1985).  Mink are sentinel animals like canaries in coal mines.  They were the first, for example, to show toxicity from DES and PCBs (BSE, 1992) and since 1960 there have been four outbreaks of a mink spongiform encephalopathy (also called TME) on U.S. fur farms (Robinson, 1994).  This perplexed researchers who were unable to orally infect mink with scrapie-infected sheep brains (Marsh, 1993).  A clue came in 1985 when TME wiped out a population of minks in Wisconsin who hadn't eaten any sheep at all (Tainted, 1990).  Their meat portion of their diet consisted almost exclusively of dairy cattle called "downers," (Marsh, 1991) an industry term describing cows which collapse for unknown reasons and are too sick to stand back up (Bovine, 1993)  Dr. Marsh believes that there was a form of BSE in the United States and that it manifests itself as more of a "downer" cow disease than a "mad" cow disease (McNair, 1993; Marsh, 1993).

Downer cow syndrome is a major problem among dairy cattle (Radostits, 1994), with tens of thousands of cows going down for unexplainable reasons every year in the U.S. (Bovine, 1993).  If even a tiny percentage of these cows are falling victim to BSE, this could have frightening implications on a grand scale.  If downer cows can be kept alive long enough, they can be used directly for human consumption (Bovine, 1993) and their bones boiled (along with their "lips, head, knuckles, feet..." (Ensminger, 1987)) to make gelatin (U.S., 1996b), a main ingredient in products like marshmallows.  If deemed unfit the carcasses are melted down in a process called rendering into products like animal feed or pet food (Hearing, 1995).  The Downed Animal Protection Act, a bill currently before the Congress (S. 1847 and H.R. 2143) would prohibit the use of downed animals for human consumption by ensuring the cows are humanely euthanized instead of oftentimes literally dragged to market (Hearing, 1995).

Numerous tests have been performed and none exclude the possibility that U.S. dairy herds harbor some form of BSE.  Mink, like many mammals, were found to be susceptible to BSE; when mink are fed BSE-infected brains from British cows they die from a spongiform encephalopathy (Robinson, 1994).  The disease can experimentally be spread from mink to cows and from cows back to mink (Marsh, 1991).  The critical experiments, though, involved inoculating brains from American sheep infected with scrapie into American cattle (Cutlip, 1994).  In England, presumably scrapie-infected cows go mad, twitching (Caldwell, 1991) and kicking into a rabid frenzy (Robinson, 1992).  But in the U.S., scrapie-infected cows instead staggered to their deaths (Hourrigan, 1990) like downer cows do (Cutlip, 1994).  These experiments support belief in a form of BSE native to the United States (BSE, 1992).  Based on the small number of mink farms decimated by this disease, though, it would seem to be so rare that Dr. Marsh has asserted that American beef is, "totally safe" as far as he can tell (Dateline, 1996).

Michael Greger, The Public Health Implications of Mad Cow Disease, International Vegetarian Union  www.ivu.org/congress/wvc96/madcow.html

One wonders whether only four mink farms being decimated by TSE indicates that downer cows only sometimes suffer from TSE, when it might instead mean that mink farmers have learned to not feed downer cows to their mink, or when it might instead mean that mink farmers have learned that broadcasting news of mink epidemics hurts sales of mink fur.

If TSE is a single disease which jumps species barriers, then it is inconceivable that there could be zero incidence among American cattle while an epidemic rages among American sheep:

Indigenous conditions in the U.S. conducive to a BSE outbreak include the presence of scrapie in 39 states (Marsh, 1991).  The prevalence of the disease is not known since data on scrapie is not collected in all states (Bovine, 1996).  The 40-year (Miller, 1993) USDA Scrapie Eradication Program has been called a "dismal failure" (Bradley, 1991) and was even implicated in the recent rise of scrapie-infected sheep (Marsh, 1991).  Admitting defeat, the USDA scrapped the Scrapie Eradication Program four years ago and replaced it with an "entirely voluntary" control program (Bleifuss, 1993).  Meanwhile 22,000 tons of sheep slaughterhouse by-products are produced in the United States every year which go primarily into animal feed (Qualitative, 1991).  One of the main differences between the U.S. and Britain that helps minimize the risk of an outbreak is a dramatically smaller proportion of sheep to cattle overall (Qualitative, 1991).  This is a moot point, however, if BSE is already here.

Michael Greger, The Public Health Implications of Mad Cow Disease, International Vegetarian Union www.ivu.org/congress/wvc96/madcow.html

In the entire United States, with 92,000 sheep producers, only 100 had bothered to enroll.  By August of 1996, only one flock in the entire country had actually made it through the monitoring process and attained scrapie-free certification.

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Mad Cow USA: Could the nightmare happen here?  www.prwatch.org/books/mcusa.pdf p. 117

To sum up, the Bush claim of no BSE among American cows has the same credibility as the Bush claim of invading Iraq in order to confiscate Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction:

A conspiracy theorist might argue that the U.S.D.A.'s voluntary testing program has been carefully designed not to find mad-cow disease.  At the very least it seems to be governed by incompetence and mismanagement.  During the month after the cow with B.S.E. was discovered in Washington State, the number of mad-cow tests performed there dropped by almost 50 percent.

Eric Schlosser, Order the Fish, Vanity Fair, November 2004, pp. 240-257, p. 255.

The Bush administration's mad-cow policy has essentially turned American consumers into the subjects of a vast medical experiment.  B.S.E. does not seem to be anywhere near as pervasive among American cattle as it was among British and French cattle 20 years ago.  But the true extent of the problem in the United States remains unknown.

Eric Schlosser, Order the Fish, Vanity Fair, November 2004, pp. 240-257, p. 256.

Today's CBC television six o'clock news showing videos of one unsteady and trembling American cow, and another fallen American cow that can't get up, whose BSE American officials appear to have concealed, demonstrates the mainstream media discovering the tip of a very large iceberg which has been floating in plain view for several years.

The Bush administration attempts to convince the world of its high consumer-safety standards by boycotting Canadian beef.  As Canadian beef is safer than American beef, the boycott in reality endangers American health.  The only goal which the Bush administration succeeds in advancing is the destruction of Canadian competition.

The Press Seems More Interested In Cow TSE Than In Human TSE

For every Canadian cow with TSE there are 150 American humans with TSE.  This from there being two Canadian cows with BSE recently, the population of the US approaching 300 million, and the incidence of CJD being widely cited as one per million population.

That 300 Americans annually contract CJD is an estimate, as it is impossible to perform an authoritative count:

Part of the problem is that CJD resembles common diseases such as dementia in the elderly.  Doctors have no set guidelines on what to look for and only autopsies can confirm a diagnosis.  But few are carried out and CJD is not a reportable disease in the US.

Anil Ananthaswamy  pub70.ezboard.com/~

The death of three hunters from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is likely to heighten fears that people in North America are contracting a new form of the fatal brain disorder from deer.  But the surveillance system in the US is so woefully inadequate that even if these fears are unfounded, it is impossible for researchers to rule out the possibility.

Anil Ananthaswamy  pub70.ezboard.com/~

One would imagine that the press would find the 300 American human cases of TSE more interesting than two Canadian cow cases, and yet it is the two Canadian cows that make the headlines.  It is not that the 300 American human cases is an estimate which is hard to cover because the corresponding people cannot be found the press failed to raise the cluster of five western-Kentucky CJD cases cited at the top of the instant letter to national consciousness, or the 13 CJD cases diagnosed in the Tampa area around 1997 www.mad-cow.org/~, or the three hunters cited in the block quote immediately above, or the many cases that are positively identified each year.

And neither can it be argued that the two Canadian cows are more interesting because they measure the degree of personal threat to the consumer.  Although the 300 CJD humans don't threaten to infect those around them, they do play the role of canaries in coal mines sentinels warning of the existence of unrecognized danger.  CJD cases, then, are of practical interest to people seeking to avoid infection in the same way that canaries are of practical interest to coal miners seeking to avoid noxious gases.

Also puzzling is that if American claims are to be believed, American cows are freer of TSE than are American people, which if it were true might lead to the recommendation that the American government spend more time taking care of its people than its cows.

Canada, with approximately one-tenth the population, has one-tenth the incidence of CJD 30 confirmed cases annually www.hc-sc.gc.ca/~.  With only two BSE cows in all of Canada, though, one wonders where the humans are contracting the disease perhaps in the course of cross-border shopping and also whether, for the same reasons as in the US, the 30 confirmed cases might grossly underestimate the true number.

Canada's Winning Strategy

The first step in extricating Canada's beef industry from its American death sentence is to make Canada Japan's exclusive supplier of beef.

Canada can become Japan's exclusive beef supplier by adopting the world's strictest BSE monitoring program, and by inviting Japanese scientists and technicians into all Canadian laboratories and monitoring facilities to work alongside Canadians, to help upgrade Canadian procedures, and to verify compliance with strict monitoring.  Such Japanese representatives would be granted unlimited powers to inspect and to command disclosure.

The Canadian-Japanese relationship would be reciprocal, with Canadian scientists and technicians similarly being stationed in laboratories and monitoring facilities throughout Japan, and enjoying the same powers to inspect and to command disclosure.  The benefit to Canadians of their Japanese service would lie less in fortifying Canadian confidence in Japanese beef than in acquiring Japanese know-how and being inculcated in Japanese rigor.

With strict monitoring, more Canadian BSE will be discovered than is being recorded today.  Nevertheless, the Japanese, and all others wishing to eat safe beef, will buy Canadian on the recognition that alternative suppliers would discover an even higher incidence were they themselves to submit to strict externally-supervised monitoring.

Although some competition might arise from other beef producers who begin to adopt strict monitoring, Canada's success is guaranteed by its major potential competitor the United States being unable to follow suit for the reason documented above that the United States is probably in the midst of a BSE epidemic which it will not allow external examiners to discover.

If your government begins moving to implement this program immediately, then the beef industry will be heartened within days, beef will begin to flow to Japan within months, and within a year Canadian cattlemen will be unable to meet the demand for their product.  Beef consumers all over the world will understand that they get the world's safest beef when they buy Canadian.  It goes without saying that the world's safest beef can be sold at a premium, and that the premium will cover the cost of the strict monitoring.  Canadian beef producers suffer today because they insist on offering for sale only unconvincingly-verified beef, which is not what the world is ready to buy.  The surest way to make verification convincing is to involve the consumer in performing it.  When consumers demand quality, only the vendors flexible enough to supply that quality will survive.

There is no use waiting to regain the American market, as that day will not come soon.  The Bush administration has set out on a campaign of bullying friend and foe alike, and normalized relations can be expected only after a change in leadership returns the United States to normalized thinking.

Protecting Canadian Health

Canadian leadership must not lose sight of its obligation to protect Canadian health by blocking American meat products from entering Canada.  It is not merely that the United States neglects to keep Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy out of its meat it neglects to keep many pathogens out of its meat, as for example salmonella:

Carol Tucker Foreman was an undersecretary of agriculture during the Carter administration and now heads the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy Institute.  "The meatpacking industry has more power today than at any other time in my career," she says, "because you have one-party rule and that party's coffers are larded with money from the industry."  In December 2001, the industry won an important victory when a federal appeals court upheld an earlier ruling that the U.S.D.A. could no longer shut down a ground-beef plant because of salmonella contamination.  Foreman was appalled by the court's decision that salmonella is not an adulterant because cooking destroys it.  And she was even more appalled by the U.S.D.A.'s acceptance of that verdict.  The plaintiff in the case, Supreme Beef Processors, had tested positive three times for salmonella while it was selling tons of meat to the National School Lunch Program.  [...]

Thanks to the ruling in the Supreme Beef case, ground beef contaminated with salmonella may be sold legally, with the U.S.D.A. seal of approval.  Carol Tucker Foreman would like to see the U.S.D.A. given the power to test widely for dangerous pathogens, to trace tainted meat back to its source, to mandate the recall of bad meat, and to impose civil fines on companies that break the rules.  At the moment the agency can do none of these things.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission can order a teddy bear off the market if one of its glass eyes poses a choking hazard, but the federal government has no authority to demand a recall of contaminated meat that could sicken thousands.

Eric Schlosser, Order the Fish, Vanity Fair, November 2004, pp. 240-257, pp. 244-245.

Given the American record of irresponsibility reviewed above, Canadians are justified in fearing that on top of American meat being potentially contaminated with TSE and salmonella, it might also be contaminated with the powerful E. coli 0157:H7, and Canadians are justified in fearing that the "rerouted to someone else" with which the following passage ends might preferentially mean to American agribusiness "rerouted to Canada":

Although U.S.D.A. inspectors repeatedly cited the plant for visible fecal contamination of the meat, they imposed no punishments and demanded no corrective action.  As a result, questionable meat was routinely sold to the general public.  ConAgra performed a variety of pathogen tests, however, for its largest customers, such as the two major fast-food chains that bought meat from the Greeley plant.  During the publicly announced recall, large customers had secretly returned at least 118,000 pounds of beef from the Greeley slaughterhouse after the meat tested positive for E. coli 0157:H7.  ConAgra accepted the meat, and then rerouted it to someone else.

Eric Schlosser, Order the Fish, Vanity Fair, November 2004, pp. 240-257, p. 246.

Lubomyr Prytulak


Hon. M. Aileen Carroll, Stockwell Day, Gilles Duceppe, Hon Ujjal Dosanjh, Diane Finley, Steven Fletcher, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Ted Menzies, Hon Andrew Mitchell, Hon James Scott Peterson, Hon Pierre Stewart Pettigrew, Belinda Stronach

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