Musings on meat and the recent recall

Well, unless you live under a rock you’ve probably heard by now that 143 million pounds of beef coming from a particular meat factory in California have been recalled due to concerns over health and safety related to the improper health-related treatment of certain “downer” cows. A few thoughts:

1) I saw on the news today an anchor ask a question I’m sure has been on many minds: “why did it take 3 weeks from the time the videos of the cruelty were released for action to be taken and the recall to happen?” The reason is that it was because the cruelty in and of itself was what drew USDA attention to the possibility of there being unsanitary goings-on at the beef plant – but the cruelty itself was not necessarily a matter worthy of attention such as a massive recall. The concern was not that animals were being tortured, but that proper inspection procedures had not been followed and therefore it was remotely possible that somewhere in the tons and tons of beef coming out of this bovine manufactory a certain amount might have been tainted. It is NOT necessarily illegal to prod a cow or to pick it up with a forklift, unless you use that as a means to circumvent health codes (which are, as anyone who’s read the USDA meat inspectors’ manual can tell you, not terribly reassuring). As a matter of fact, the people at the cattle mill may have thought they could get away with it within the law, as it turns out there may be loopholes in the USDA policy. Doesn’t that just make you want to run out and grab a hot, juicy burger at your local Wendy’s after an exhilarating session of midnight street luging?

2. They seriously expect us to believe that just because the company has fired the two workers “responsible for the problem” and that everything is all better (or a least it will be soon). And, because we’re sheep who want to believe everything is ok and we can go on consuming thoughtlessly like we usually do, they’re probably right. The fact is that (just as I said about the problems at Walter Reed hospital) these practices are not “aberrations from the system”, they are products of the system itself – the system that makes it profitable to get every animal that can be killed and ground up to the killing floor in at least a quasi-legal fashion. The entire industrial meat production system is founded on the atrocity that claims what animals are good for is consumption and making money in the most efficient manner possible, regardless of consequences for the animal or even for consumers. The “protections” built into the law are a joke, as anyone who’s read the USDA meat inspectors’ manual can tell you. Is there an echo? I think I said that already…

3. If people are horrified by videos of people prodding cattle and picking them up with forklifts, I can only imagine the reaction of disgust if they learned that a large portion of what animals to be slaughtered are fed comes from bone, blood, guts, brains, and other parts of slaughtered animals that couldn’t be used as meat, which are turned into feed by a process known as rendering. Rendering is only supposed to be done from USDA-approved cows, but the oversight for rendering falls upon the FDA, and their inspections of rendering plants only check to make sure animal feed containing cattle parts is labeled. They do not check to make sure the animal parts being used come from cows that were approved by the USDA. Contrary to official stock sweatshop spokesmen propaganda, the prions that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease”, can and do jump species from cattle to humans – and these same microorganisms cause a disease in humans, Creudtzfelt-Jakob Disease (CJD), that essentially turns the brain into a spongy mess, much like Alzheimer’s. Not only that, but CJD is misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s enough times to be more than just statistically significant. And the rendering process does not kill prions. On that point and several others, you REALLY ought to read this article by Maria Tomchick from Znet. Vegetarians and vegans, don’t go thinking you’re safe just because you don’t consume meat/animal products.

4. BSE doesn’t usually show up in cows for 5-7 years. Most beef cattle are slaughtered by age 3. So there’s no telling how many carriers have already been eaten or otherwise processed. CJD can take 30 or more years to show up noticeably in a human. Doesn’t that make you feel great?

5. Even though the risk of being infected by BSE-contaminated beef or cattle products is relatively low, it’s a risk that has been completely placed off the map by the corporate PR machine, with a compliant US government bowing to its whims. And if the information linked above isn’t enough to make you angry about that, maybe the information on this site will be. As I said in a comment on my sister’s blog today,

The problem will never be solved until the system that makes it profitable for such abuses to occur is dismantled, and it will not be dismantled voluntarily by those who profit from it.

Nor will it be sufficiently challenged by the government that is inextricably entwined with the corporate industry – just check up on how many FDA and USDA officials used to be industry spokespeople or corporate officials, and vice versa. It’s not even that the corporates are masters controlling their government lackeys, the relationship is too reciprocal to be cast in those terms – but any way you look at it, the government-corporate conglomerate scheme does NOT have any of our best interests in mind. In the words of Urban Seeds, an Evansville gardening cooperative, “plant a garden – start a revolution!”

Interestingly, prions also means “let us pray”, in French. So… prions pour une révolution.

6 Responses

  1. Wow! Thanks for the info. It really makes me think about extending my fast from meat permanently after Lent is over.

  2. Just one more reason why we only use grass fed, free range beef. In fact we have begun driving to the farm the cows are raised on and buying directly from the owners.

  3. Great points. I was in Bosnia when the UK’s problem with mad cow disease came about and it scared the crap out of me. Seeing the blatant disregard for common sense, much less common decency, in those videos is both sobering and terrifying.

    One quibble, prions aren’t micoorganisms – they are twisted proteins that interfere with cellular metabolism by twisting other proteins and causing them to aggregate into sheets. Thus no disinfectant will “kill” them and only extremely high temperatures – multiple thousands of degrees – will destroy them. And no antibiotics or antiviral medications will affect a prion “infection.” Makes them much, much scarier in my book.

  4. Nathan – Ack, you’re right about prions – I should have slept on the post and then proofread it again instead of posting it when I was tired at 4 in the morning ’cause I know better than that. Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, they have to be actually, physically destroyed because they can’t technically be “killed”.

    Steve – good move. I’m in favor of doing the same myself for many reasons.

    Dustin – you could do that. I’m not for various reasons (and I still need to reply to a comment from Adam on my Lent post about that), not the least of which being that being vegetarian/vegan is only a measure of protection – animal products that are (however remotely) potentially prion-carrying are everywhere, including fertilizing plants grown for food. I think the bigger problem is not meat consumption per se, but industrial factory farming.

  5. Jason,

    You’re correct. The true problem is how farming has become an industry on the large scale. It is no longer family farms which own the day, but rather corporate conglomerates who really don’t have much of a stake in the local community.

    I had the opportunity to visit a local milk farm in northern Indiana, where the cows are kept in a perpetual state of pregnancy (you know, so they produce milk). After they have been used up, I asked the veterinarian what happens to them–my guess was they end up in sandwiches at McDonald’s, Wendy’s and the like.

    …and guess what, I was right.

  6. Yes, I have been trying to explain prions, CJD, and the mass practice of factory farm animal abuse for years now, and the most common response I get from the meat eaters is, “please don’t tell me anything about meat or cows. I like to eat meat, so if I don’t know, I feel better.” Ignorant answer, huh? I chaulk it up to people deciding that being ignorant is easier than knowing the truth and giving something up, not just because it is disgusting and unhealthy, but because it is inhumane and disgusting. As a matter of fact, I just had someone say that to me this afternoon at the coffeehouse. Complacency rules in this country because Americans, for the most part just want what satisfies them no matter what the consequences might be. They are living in a bubble, and if you try to get them to even look outside their bubble, they freak.

    If you really would like to get to know more about prions, read a book called “The family that couldn’t sleep”. It is one of the best books on this subject I have ever read, and has many scientific findings and theories on prions and how they react similarly in humans, sheep and even deer and elk.

    Thanks for sharing this with me Jason. I love it, that others are finding out the details on meat and passing it on. 🙂

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