Nevertheless, these quick tests are here and are undergoing final stages of evaluation before being licensed in other countries including England and Ireland.
The British concern is understandable given that the last "outbreak" of BSE resulted in the slaughter of over 4.4 million cattle in 1989 and 168 human deaths (and still counting). Despite this, BSE is still cropping up in British and Northern Ireland herds. At the same time, an outbreak of similar scale was occurring in France which was covered up by the government. The number of French citizens who have died and are still dying of vCJD is unknown. Even Canada seems to be experiencing a resurgence of BSE cases with the 15th and 16th bovine cases this year being reported just in the last month.
In the US, as outlined above, FDA policies appear to be directed at protecting beef agribusiness concerns. Routine, limited testing of herds was not done until 2003. At that time, a whistleblower employee at a packing house went public that 'downer' cows were being used in the food supply. After initial denials were refuted by videotapes showing non-ambulatory cows being pushed into slaughter pens with a forklift, the FDA revealed that these cattle were indeed being used. Of course, Korea, Japan, and other countries banned US beef. The FDA now tests less than 1% of cattle in directed tests. The tests used do not yield results until days or weeks later, long after the cattle have entered the food chain. The main protective program the USDA has in place is inspectors in the slaughter house.
Failures of this inspection program are well documented including the 2008 Chino Westland/Hallmark Meat Company scandal. The Humane Society of the United States had demonstrated through undercover video that desperately ill cows at the Chino facility were forced into the slaughter box by such means as chains, electric shock, high intensity water and forklifts. This company had been a major supplier of meat products to the National School Lunch Program.2
Further, the inspection program is fundamentally flawed as most cattle slaughtered from feed lots are about 24 months of age while symptoms of BSE may not be apparent until 48 months of age. Cattle in this age group usually come from breeders and dairy operations.
The result of this shoddy, industry-friendly 'regulation' will be the same as the result of the lack of effective regulation of Wall Street. Here, if and when citizens demand testing, the US herd will be revealed to be full of BSE. Even in England, where a large cull of potentially infected animals was done, early results of these new quick blood tests has revealed that 1 in 4000 persons carries BSE/vCJD.
The meaning of these point prevalence figures is debatable. Given the long time lag between infection and disease, does this prevalence reflect the wholesale contamination of the beef supply for years up to this time? Will all of these individuals ultimately develop vCJD or only a small fraction? And, given the situation in the US, is there any reason any thinking person should continue to eat beef?
- Official FDA site. Additional site here (Warning: industry web site may contain slanted material.
- Quote from here.