To listen to the audio version (36.5 min) with all the radio clips, just click on the title above.
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[“I hope that your realize that Mad Cow disease has not gone away. We have over five million people in North America today being diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s. When they actually did a study at Pitsburg’s vetran’s hospital, they found that 5 and a half percent of the people that died that were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s really had CJD, the human form of Mad Cow disease. They did another study like that at Yale University and they found that 13 percent were misdiagnosed. That means that we have right now, in North America, about 500,000 people a year dying from the human form of Mad Cow disease, and our governments are saying that we should have less than 350.”]
Apocalyptic talk about a new Mad Cow plague appeared to be dying down. Even Howard Lyman, the original “Mad Cowboy” has shifted recent speeches toward a general condemnation of the meat industry, and a fervid call for animal-free diets.
Stunned by international bans on American beef, the former cattle lobbyists appointed to the US Department of Agriculture have announced new rules to protect the public. The government, stuffed with Western Republicans, continues to claim that not a single citizen has died from Mad Cow disease. Unlike AIDS, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), Mad Cow disease has not turned into the plague predicted in a series of fearsome books published shortly after 20 young people died horribly from BSE in Britain.
As the second and third confirmed Mad Cows were found in the American South in the Spring of 2006, we have to ask: is Mad Cow disease over? Or did it disappear under a blanket of denial and public relations bravado? As a disease that takes 10 to 30 years to reveal itself, is Mad Cow lurking?
This Alex Smith from Radio Ecoshock.
There are many reasons to suspect we are being lulled by our ignorance about this new form of disease. Only in the last decade did humans discover a new cause of brain rot. It is not a virus or a bacteria. Although it arises from living things, it is not alive. It is a microscopic form of protein called a “prion.”
We all have protein in our bodies. Both animals and plants make protein – but North Americans get most of their proteins from meat. The combination of basic chemicals in a protein has inlaid instructions about it’s designated shape, the way it “folds.” A prion is a protein that folds differently. When enough mis-folded prions accumulate into clumps, in the brain, we think they stimulate the formation of plaque, and the development of holes in the brain. This is why BSE is called “spongiform” meaning “sponge-like.”
Prions can’t be killed, because they are not alive. They multiply almost like crystals, which form around a seed crystal. Prions are immune to cooking heat, chlorine, solvents, and any other methods we normally associate with sanitary protection of food. Diseased prions can live in soil, or frozen animals tissue, indefinitely. You would have to burn meat to a black crisp before prions would be damaged.
California biochemist Stanley Prusiner won a Nobel Prize for his prion theory – and Prusiner as among the loudest critics of government inaction to protect meat consumers. He’s one of many scientists who think we have underestimated the risk of a new plague.
The prion story is like an iceberg, and Mad Cow disease is the visible tip. It turns out there are a whole range of prion diseases that affect lots of different animals. Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk is caused by prions. Mink, tigers, sheep, pigs, and mice sicken and die from prion-caused illness.
Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is a major killer of deer and elk in the United States, a big risk to hunters and their families who eat infected venison, and further source of prion-infected feed to farm animals. It’s still legal to take obviously diseases deer or elk and grind them up into feed for pigs and chickens. Science has yet to investigate whether pigs or chickens can get sick themselves from eating diseased deer. But a 2001 study by Dr. Richard Race, a Senior Investigator with the National Institutes of Health, suggests that resistant farm animals could still pass on prion diseases to humans when eaten. He calls them the “silent carriers.”
We’re still in the early stages of understanding Chronic Wasting Disease, but it appears that CWD can be passed to humans as readily as Mad Cow disease. Still more worrying, CWD is the only prion disease we suspect can be passed by casual contact, even by saliva.
In humans, one of the fastest growing diseases in the West is also prion-caused: Alzheimer’s, the illness that robs the mind, usually in older people. Four and a half million Americans, and almost half a million Canadians, are incapacitated by this dementia. Health experts are predicting 16 million cases of Alzheimer’s in America by 2050. The Canadian government says the number of these prion victims will double in the next 20 years. The U.S. National Institute of Health estimates their health cares costs about $100 billion a year. The damage and tragedy experienced by families is much greater.
Alzheimer’s is a new plague. Until the last decade, we didn’t even know what caused it. We still don’t know why new cases are rising exponentially.
A controversial book, co-written by Dr. Murray Waldman, a coroner and researcher at the University of Toronto, wonders whether Alzheimer’s is actually a new disease, caused by prions from factory meat production. The book is called “Dying for a Hamburger: how modern meat-packing led to an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Waldman says previous literature does NOT assume that old people will get dementia. Public and published awareness of the disease only rose after the First World War, and the medical definition of ‘senile’ did not include ‘dementia’ until 1962. According to Waldman, the number of articles on Alzheimer’s diseases in medical journals increased by 5,000 times between 1966 and 2000, compared with six times and four times for prostate cancer and heart disease.
From a review of the book by bookslut.com, “there is the fact that Alzheimer’s emerged in the wake of the industrialized farming and meat-packaging production-line techniques that allowed the BSE prions to get into the food chain. Where these techniques have been introduced, first in Europe and America and more recently in the countries of the Pacific Rim, processed meat consumption has soared along with rates of Alzheimer’s. Waldman points out that levels of Alzheimer’s in largely vegetarian India are still very low.”
The Alzheimer’s society acknowledges similarity with prion diseases, and both involve errant proteins, but they say each disease involved different proteins. The two diseases should not be confused. A spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Society, Dr. Susanne Sorensen, does agree that their disease rose with the consumption of meat, but it may be a risk factor, like fat is for heart disease.
However, Waldman postulates that Alzheimer’s may be an infectious disease from eating production meat, and caused by prions. Others agree, but the medical establishment is very hostile to this theory. It has not been tested scientifically, and we don’t really know the whole story on the causes Alzheimer’s. The National Institute of Health finds certain genes, and pre-existing medical conditions, greatly increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s. Being white is also increases the odds. Alzheimer’s is the 8th leading cause of death in the United States, with 53,800 fatalities in 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A summary on Wikipedia states that studies of Alzheimer’s patients show no link to diet.
We’re going to fling a few acronyms here, but it’s important you learn a few new words to describe the medical future.
When Mad Cow Disease, BSE, is transferred to humans, our version of it is called CJD. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease was first reported by two German doctors (Creutzfeldt and Jakob) in 1920. Experts tell us CJD develops, due to prions, in about one in a million people. The form of CJD arising from prion-infected meat looks slightly different under a microscope, so it’s called “new variant” CJD, or nvCJD for short.
Another book, “Brain Trust: The Hidden Connection Between Mad Cow Disease & Misdiagnosed Alzheimer’s” by Colm A. Kelleher, PhD, doesn’t say that Alzheimer’s and Mad Cow have the identical root cause, but that many people labeled with Alzheimer’s are found to have CJD upon autopsy. The disease is hidden by mis-diagnosis.
In a posting online, Colm Kelleher writes:
“So what is the connection between the human prion disease (CJD) and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)? Firstly, the astounding recent increase in AD in the United States has not been sufficiently highlighted by the media.
In 1979, only 653 people died of AD. In 2002, that number had increased to 50,000 deaths. A 9,000% increase in deaths for any disease in a mere 25 years should be cause for a national emergency. Instead, old people now are almost expected to die of AD. This was not the case a few generations ago. AD was a rare disease in the 1960s.
AD is quite difficult to diagnose. Mood swings, psychiatric problems, sleep problems, eye problems, memory problems are all loosely associated with dementia. Some of these AD symptoms overlap with CJD symptoms. The main difference is that AD takes much longer to progress to death. CJD is much more rapid. Typically, people die 3-18 months after CJD diagnosis. The gold standard for diagnosing CJD is by autopsy and pathology studies of the brain. Two shocking studies, one from Yale University and the second from University of Pittsburgh really opened my eyes when I first saw them. When researchers studied the brains of dead Alzheimer’s disease patients, they found that between 5-13% had actually been wrongly diagnosed. These people had really died of CJD. Now, what does this say regarding the supposed rarity of CJD in the USA?
We are routinely told that CJD is so rare, only 1 in a million people get it. But with 4-5 million Alzheimer’s Disease patients currently putting an enormous strain on the US healthcare system, if even a small percentage of these people actually have CJD, not AD, then CJD is much more common than we have been told. These figures imply thousands of CJD cases in the US that are going undetected because of a lack of autopsies. Recent reports indicate that most pathologists do not want to conduct autopsies on CJD patients for fear of contaminating their facilities with the indestructible prions. And to make matters even worse, CJD is not even a mandatory reportable disease in about half the states in the USA. That means authorities have no real idea of how many CJD cases actually exist.
If we look at the current low level of testing for mad cow disease in the US, and we combine it with the current epidemic of deer/elk disease in this country, and with the lack of autopsies to determine how many people in the US are actually dying of CJD, we may be facing a grim reality. When the Europeans, who have just gone through ten years of devastating disease and have lost billions of dollars, look across at the United States, they shake their heads in disbelief.
Surely, we can learn from the mistakes made in Europe?”
Michael Greger, M.D. is another persistent critic of government inaction on BSE risks. He’s the Mad Cow Coordinator for the Organic Consumers Association (www.organicconsumers.org).
In a seminal article published at commondreams.org, Greger writes:
“Nobel Laureate Gajdusek, for example, estimates that 1% of people showing up in Alzheimer clinics actually have CJD. At Yale, out of a series of 46 patients clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, six were proven to have CJD at autopsy. In another study of brain biopsies, out of a dozen patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s according to established criteria, three of them were actually dying from CJD. An informal survey of neuropathologists registered a suspicion that CJD accounts for 2-12% of all dementias in general. Two autopsy studies showed a CJD rate among dementia deaths of about 3%.[69,70] A third study, at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that 5% of patients diagnosed with dementia had CJD. Although only a few hundred cases of sporadic CJD are officially reported in the U.S. annually, hundreds of thousands of Americans die with dementia every year. Thousands of these deaths may actually be from CJD caused by eating infected meat.”
The online article has foot-notes listing these studies.
BLOG READERS: For periodic updates on the Mad Cow crisis send a blank email to DrGregerMadCowUpdatesfirstname.lastname@example.org
And studies reviewed by the US public Health Service found that BSE can be transmitted through a blood transfusion. The European Commission concluded, quote, “There is little doubt that humans or animals could be exposed to the BSE agent by consuming blood products…” Our whole blood supply could be at risk, as it was in the early days of AIDS.
In his new book, “No More Bull!” Howard Lyman warns of a huge loop-hole in the so-called fire-wall: cow blood is collected in great quantities and fed back to calves as a cheap source of protein. But we know BSE can spread through blood, so a few Mad Cows could infect herds across the country. Feeding ruminants to ruminants was supposed to be banned, but it’s still going on, using cow blood for feed for cows.
Based on his research of a prion disease in Wisconsin mink that were fed downer cows, University of Wisconsin professor Richard Marsh said Mad Cow disease was already widely distributed in U.S. cattle. He was harassed and threatened with legal suits from the meat industry.
Howard Lyman was sued, for six years in cattle-friendly Texas courts, for telling the public about the risk of Mad Cow disease, on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Here’s the story:
[clip:A_HL_Oprah_Story_1.47 min.wav Howard Lyman recounts the show and the lawsuit]
“They sued me because they wanted to let every media outlet in North America know that if you were going to take the issue and talk about what’s wrong with out food supply, that they’re willing to spend millions of dollars dragging you through court.”
Perhaps that’s why major media outlets have soft-pedalled government corruption and lack of consumer protection on prion diseases.
Cows and beef aren’t the only risky meat. We know sheep have the prion disease called “scrapie.” Now we’re finding out that pigs have been dying from a prion disease since the 1970s. Researchers found that people who eat pig brains, and another Southern delicacy of pig waste called “scrapple” have a much greater risk of developing CJD.
Here’s a good source to check out: prwatch.org has an article titled “Mad Cow U.S.A.: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?” originally written by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber for the Third Quarter edition of 1997. This summary has been updated and is still online.
Rampton and Stauber write: “[a] second study, published in 1985, looked for correlations between CJD and consumption of 45 different food items which ranged from raw oysters to hot dogs. Nine items showed a statistical correlation, six of which came from pigs: roast pork, ham, hot dogs, pork chops, smoked pork, and scrapple.”
In a mysterious pork barrel exception, the FDA’s rule prohibiting the sale of mammal tissue for feeds doesn’t apply to pigs. The agency doesn’t list pigs as mammals. So swine protein is still being fed to pigs, a dangerous practice which could rapidly escalate even a small outbreak of prion diseases.
Yet another risk comes from new machines designed to strip every last bit of protein from a slaughtered carcass. They’re called Advanced Meat Recovery machines, or AMRs. As they grind and strip, these machines also grab nerve fiber that could carry disease-causing prions like Mad Cow. The meat bits go into hot dogs, pizza toppings, and other processed meat products.
A study by Colorado State University, published in 2001, found the dangerous Central Nervous System tissues, brain and spinal cord parts, in more than 50% of mechanically stripped beef products. When they tested hamburg patties from 7 major fast food chains, they found six out of seven contained nervous system fibers, the very cattle parts capable of passing on Mad Cow disease to humans. A petition to force slaughter houses to remove the central nervous system before putting through mechanical stripping machines was refused by the USDA, even though it was supported by the American Public Health Association, the Consumer Federation of America, the Government Accountability Project, and the National Consumers League. They were no match for their opponents in the cattle and slaughterhouse industry.
Cattle aren’t allowed to eat feed contaminated with spinal cord residues, but kids are. It’s even allowed in the federally supported school lunch program. Despite government assurances, North American youth are still at high risk for Mad Cow disease.
There is some recent good news. As reported in the Vancouver Sun March 6, 2006, a Canadian neuroscientists has developed a blood test to diagnose a wide range of protein related diseases, including Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Alzheimer’s and Mad Cow. Dr. Neil Cashman says his test finds the clumps of misfolded proteins that underlie all these diseases. A blood test for Alzheimer’s is likely two years away, through a company called Amorfix Life Sciences. It will pick up new variant CJD, from infected meat, as well.
Dr. Cashman recognized an urgent need for the blood test to help prevent humans from getting variant CJD from infected meat or blood transfusions. The test will work in both cattle and humans, so it could lift the veil hiding the real prevalence of Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Diseases.
On their web-site, the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK says:
“There is some evidence that the number of deaths from variant CJD [Mad Cow disease] has reached a peak and is now in decline. However, there is currently no firm scientific basis for predicting future numbers of cases of variant CJD and there could be more than one peak to the epidemic. One problem is that the length of the incubation period for the disease remains uncertain. Prions may exist in the body for many years before symptoms begin.”
Others believe the whole Mad Cow debate is just another media scare, like this caller to an NPR open line program:
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You decide what to believe.
The worst part of this controversy is that we already have a relatively cheap and easy way to prevent the transmission of prion diseases from animals to humans. All governments have to do is
* close-up the loop-holes about feeding infected animals to other animals, including humans;
* track the history of cows;
* remove any possibly infected animals from the food chain immediately;
* and test each and every cow for BSE. That’s already done in Japan. The tests cost a couple of bucks a cow, and take three hours to get results. It’s that easy to catch and remove infected beef from the food chain.
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The debate about tracking cattle, so we can trace and remove other infected animals, has curious twists in the United States. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association complains about the cost of implanting the RFID chips into the cow’s ear, and book-keeping. Other right-wing leaning and Libertarian Americans, including talk show host Alex Jones, fear tracking cattle is just the first step toward implanting chips to track humans, in a giant government or corporate database. Some ranchers don’t want the data used by environmentalists.
But the real reason for resistance to tracking may be more sinister: the industry doesn’t want more cases of Mad Cow found. That would be bad for business – although it’s hard to see how the recent $6 billion loss of foreign markets, due to American Mad Cow cases, can be good for business.
Despite finding two more Mad Cows this spring, the National Cattlemen’s Association web site says simply:
“Because of progressive steps taken by the U.S. government over the past 15 years, all U.S. beef is safe from BSE.”
One Arkansas cattle producer, Creekstone Farms, is actually suing the USDA for the right to test their own cattle for BSE.
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That’s right – using an obscure 1913 law, the American government FORBIDS ranchers from testing for this vicious disease. It all looks like the spooked herd just doesn’t want to know the real picture.
Canadian meat is still suspected by international buyers. After testing only 110,000 cattle since 2004, out of the millions produced, six cases of BSE were found. And three infected cows were born AFTER the 1997 implementation of the feed ban, meaning the Canadian prevention system hasn’t worked.
Canada just decided to wait until the U.S. acted to ban the loop-hole aspects of risky feed, and the U.S. is in no rush to act. Both are gambling with the future of the industry, and the whole health of the population. In the end, millions of North Americans may die horribly because of this laxity.
The headline: “Wait for U.S. ban on risky feed, beef industry tells Ottawa” is found in the Vancouver Sun, June 8, 2006, A3. by Margaret Munro.
“The federal government is being pressured to wait for American action before banning the use of cattle brains, corpses, and other ‘high risk’ material in animal feed, pet food and fertilizer to prevent the spread of mad-cow disease….
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced in 2004 it would follow Europe’s lead and ban use of ‘specified risk material,’ or SRM, in animal feed and fertilizer. SRM includes condemned cattle and dead stock, as well as the brains, spinal cords, tonsils, eyeballs, and bits of small intestine from cattle that can harbor high concentrations of prions, the infectious agents that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) knows as mad cow disease.”
The Canadian government has developed a plan to collect and handle SRMs, but has not enacted the legislation to end use of it. They pass laws that sound good, but then don’t enforce them, don’t even act on them. The public thinks it is protected, but nothing has been done on the ground. A chorus of scientists, in Canada and the United States, have called on the Canadian government to act on it’s own laws. The United States normally imports over a million head of cattle, and billions of pounds of beef, from Canada every year. There is so much cross-border traffic of animals that we need to talk about a single meat producing system in North America, rather than thinking just nationally.
The 1997 Canadian ban on feeding cattle remains to cattle, or other ruminants like sheep, was enforced, but cattle remains, including the most dangerous parts, are still feed to chickens, hogs, and your family pet. There is mounting evidence that cross-species contamination of BSE prions is occurring.
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[describes the first U.S. case of Mad Cow disease in a human, a Florida girl, who lived in Britain for the first 15 years of her life, and may have got it there.]
The solution is obvious, but North Americans have a bad track record of preventing the obvious. They choose certain economic interests, the ones who contribute to politicians and parties, over the broad protection of the people. And they govern by Press Releases.
And the wolf is in the cattle barn. Former USDA Secretary Anne Veneman appointed Dale Moore, ex-chief lobbyist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as her chief of staff. Her spokeswoman was Alison Harrison, the former director of public relations for the Cattlemen’s Association.
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[Secretary Veneman, backed by the cattle industry, fought off any mandatory recall of contaminated meat, even in the event of a bio-terrorist attack.]
The cattle industry ran the public agency responsible for overseeing public health issues in the cattle industry. There is no independent agency to protect us.
[author of MadCow USA from Between the Lines interview, 2004.
[Summary: Accuses U.S. government of covering up Mad Cow disease with public relations. A massive public relations blitz of denial and deception. USDA and FDA more concerned with industry economics than protecting human and animal health. We don’t have enough testing to know what is really going on.]
Remember when the car industry fought off safety seat belts, to save a few bucks? Oil refiners told us civilization would grind to a halt if we took the lead out of gasoline. Led by Dupont, the CFC refrigerant industry predicted trillions in costs, and millions of deaths, if we acted to protect the ozone layer. That’s all gone by and we have seat belts, cleaner fuel, and somewhat safer chemicals in our air-conditioners.
Apparently it takes a decade or two, and lots of deaths, before humans can adjust. When the Mad Cow is already out of the barn, and into our bloodstreams, lurking for our golden years – suddenly prevention will be normal.
“It is impossible to predict the size of the epidemic–it may only involve hundreds, but it could be Europe-wide and become a disaster of biblical proportions,” says leading prion researcher John Collinge. “We have to face the possibility of a disaster with tens of thousands of cases. We just don’t know if this will happen, but what is certain is that we cannot afford to wait and see. We have to do something, right now. We have to find the answers, not only to the questions of the nature of the disease, but to find a way to develop an effective treatment.”
If you must eat meat, at least look for grass-fed or organic beef. But you still depend upon the cleanliness and judgment of an unknown slaughterhouse.
Here’s one way you can help:
“I do everything I can to educate people: if we’re going to do something about factory farming, the way to do it, individually, don’t spend your money on what they’re producing. If we hurt them in the pocket book, they’re finally going to wake up and change.”
– Howard Lyman, interview with Radio Ecoshock.
As Howard Lyman continues to tell audiences throughout North America, the only safe alternative for consumers is to stop eating factory farmed meat.
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[Ecoshock: “What’s the title of your new book, and film, and the website where we can find out more about it.
Lyman: the web site is madcowboy.com. The new book is “No More Bull!” – a straight from the shoulder look at lousy diets, and I’m talking about all lousy diets, the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet,
you know chips and Twinkies are a vegetarian diet, but they’re sure not good for you.”
Interview continues about the vegan recipies, from top chefs, in the new book, plus his new film “Mad Cowboy: The Documentary” to be shown on 400 stations through PBS, over the next three years, starting in June of 2006.]
Some of the clips you have heard come from National Public Radio, one of the national treasures of America. You can hear the full interviews at npr.org.
This report is from Radio Ecoshock, the Net’s only all environment radio station. Tune in, free, at www.ecoshock.org
You can find a recording of Howard Lyman’s speech, after the showing of his new film “Mad Cowboy: The Documentary,” on the Ecoshock website, at:
And his interview with Radio Ecoshock at:
The audio for this podcast is located at: