Monday, June 05, 2006

Mad USDA Disease

The USDA has threatened Creekstone Farms, a KS meatpacker, with prosecution. For unsafe handling of meat? No. For misleading labeling? No. The USDA is trying to prevent Creekstone from testing its beef for BSE, or mad cow disease.

Some isolated reports have appeared on this issue, on NPR
and in The Chicago Tribune., a website for meat producers, had an article on the issue (mirrored here by

BSE infected meat, when ingested by humans, can lead to vCJD: a horrible and irreversible disease of the brain that is inevitably fatal.

In other words, exactly the sort of contamination the USDA should be fighting before transmission.

The Agency insists that the restrictions in place (on feed, and on animal importation) already protect US beef from contamination, that testing would be unhelpful. This is despite three recent cases of BSE in America, and the Agency's own estimates of 4-7 unreported cases of BSE somewhere in the US. To be fair, this is a small number compared to the large population of cattle in the US. But the severity of the disease, its inability to be cooked out (BSE is not transmitted by microbe, but by a protein), along with the difficulty of detection by natural observation might leave some consumers wanting greater assurances.

Even if not all beef was required to be tested, is there any reason to prevent an individual beef supplier from testing its own beef to cater to its own consumers?

Creekstone is suing the Agency for its refusal to allow them to test their own beef. Creekstone's complaint has been filed in the DC Circuit. Review of Agency action is usually an uphill battle, however.

What can we do?

1) Stop eating beef until the USDA comes around. It's not a boycott if it's for your own protection.

2) Contribute some of your idle computing time to Folding@home. Folding@home is a distributed computer network (the second largest in the world). It uses your computer (but only when you are not) to run simulations to help scientists understand why proteins misfold (like in the case of BSE). The cost to you is negligible, as it only uses your computer when you aren't. But the contribution is positive: scientists have already published research using some of the data. Download it here.