Famous Last Words: Mad Cows and the Message
“Ann didn’t eat a lot of meat, but she did eat it occasionally. … It was a horrible death. Her nervous system completely closed down, she couldn’t walk, talk or swallow, and at the end she was not aware of us.”
—Cathy Hilton, sister-in-law of CJD victim Ann Richardson, quoted in the Liverpool Echo
Cattle are herbivores. The fact that no-longer productive cattle are murdered, ground up and mixed in with the feed of productive cattle is a perversion of nature. It has resulted in the spread of diseased brain tissue to other cattle and then to humans who can die of mad cow disease—technically called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a version of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).
When Washington state dairy farmer Jeffrey Behling was pegged as briefly harboring a “mad cow” in his feed lot at the end of 2003, the media had a field day. In response to this brouhaha, the Food and Drug Administration, the meat industry and various print-media toadies (who depend on supermarket advertising) attempted to calm terrified consumers. They blamed Canada and generated a patronizing spin that implied we were un-American not to eat beef, and that it was up to us to show the world American beef is safe, or otherwise the entire economy would go to hell in a handbasket. “Danger to Public is Low, Experts on Disease Say,” crowed the headline of a New York Times Christmas Eve story by Sandra Blakeslee and Marian Burros. Clive C. Gay, a Washington State University professor of veterinary medicine, said the fear surrounding BSE was “a little hard to comprehend. If you look at the number of deaths relative to the exposure, the risk of it is very low.” “It’s blown all out of proportion,” said Charles Cookdale, a Colorado ranch owner. “We only lost 134 people in all of Europe. We lost more people than that from West Nile this year. I don’t think the scare is real or legitimate. One cow out of 30 million is a small percentage.”