By Mark Kerwin
“If you believe absurdities, you shall commit atrocities.”
It is difficult to remain objective and factual when dealing with epidemics that threaten many strands in the web of life; however, I will do my best to give as much straight- forward information to you on the hotly debated subject of mad cow disease, also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). Researching and studying this disease, and its related diseases, has been challenging due to many different agencies and agendas competing for limited media coverage. Many sources from industries completely contradict other non-industry sources. Caveat emptor (buyer beware) applies more than ever.
“Decadence can find agents only when it wears the mask of progress.”
These days, it seems, there are more reasons than ever to remain or become vegetarian. If E.coli, saturated fat and cholesterol in animal foods, hormones from meat and dairy industries, and cancer-causing heterocyclic amines in cooked meat weren’t enough to drive people to the fruit and veggie stands, along comes Mad Cow Disease. As Howard Lyman so aptly states: “This disease, with a human incubation period of ten to forty years, makes the plague look like child’s play.”
Few diseases have caused more fear in the general population, especially in Europe, than Mad Cow Disease, or BSE. For the past several months, newspapers across the globe have carried front-page pictures of the burning corpses of thousands of sheep and cattle. Consumption of beef has fallen as much as 80% in some areas of France. In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder has suggested banning factory farms.
BSE was first discovered in England in 1986, and by 1990 was classified as an epidemic, with as many as one thousand cows a week confirmed with the disease by 1996. Over 4.5 million cattle were killed and incinerated at 1100 degrees centigrade. The European Union recently declared that all animals thirty months of age must either pass BSE testing or be destroyed, with an estimated cost of $375 million dollars (U.S.) for testing, and estimated $3.5 billion for the additional cost to destroy infected animals. Cases of BSE have been confirmed in England, France, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Denmark and Italy. Any country that has practiced feeding animal protein back to cattle is sure to join the ranks of places where BSE is spreading.
Mad Cow Disease is a bovine form of degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by a prion, a normal brain protein that has mutated. There are human and animal prion degenerative brain diseases, all closely related. Human versions include Creutzfledt-Jacob disease (CJD), new-variant CJD (nvCJD), Kuru, Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker disease, and Fatal Familial Insomnia; all believed to be caused by prions. CJD is the most common of the human prion related encephalopathies (PRE) and was first discovered in the 1920’s. Kuru was primarily found in New Guinea among tribes who ate the brains of deceased tribal members.
“Until humanity can duplicate a blade of grass, Nature laughs at its so-called scientific knowledge.”
-Thomas Alva Edison
We have a lot to learn from the simple and humble grasses and trees. Although we often feel superior with our modern sciences, Mad Cow Disease and its variants are proving difficult to eradicate once mutated and strengthened. BSE can be passed from the mother to the fetus in the womb, and from a bull to cow through the sperm. It can be passed from one species to another quite freely by consumption of infected material or transfusion of contaminated blood, is extremely resistant to high temperatures, and is unaffected by radiation, laboratory solvents and bleaches. An amount of infected material the size of half a peanut can infect an animal, and remains active when buried in the soil for years; thus BSE can easily spread into water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs.
Until recently, CJD and PRE diseases almost always afflicted the elderly and were not believed to be spread from animals to humans; however, this is no longer the case. As recently as April, a young 19 year-old French athlete succumbed to the ravages of a two year struggle with nvCJD. “He died in appalling conditions,” stated the mother of Arnaud Eboli, who described her son as looking like an old insane man, without the ability to walk or eventually breathe.
English authorities state today that there is a 99% certainty that nvCJD comes from cows with BSE, and is passed from infected meat to humans by consumption, blood transfusion, and surgical instruments infected with BSE. The cost to replace all surgical instruments nation-wide in England could cost over a billion pounds.
New variant CJD can only be confirmed by a brain biopsy, and 100% of all forms of CJD are fatal. Deaths related to PRE and CJD are often slow and painful and drawn out. In England, over eighty people have died from nvCJD and in France there have been two deaths to date. Furthermore, since the late 1970’s the number of people diagnosed with dementia disease, or Alzheimer’s, has increased dramatically. The symptoms of nvCJD and Alzheimer’s are very similar. Some recent studies in the U.S. indicate that 5-15% of dementia diagnoses were actually CJD.
Scientists say more diseases are making the animal-to-people leap as the world is becoming more crowded. In addition, the increasing demand for meat on a world scale has prompted agri-businesses and large-scale farmers to keep larger farms, with more animals packed together and larger processing plants. The movie “Chicken Run” was the first mainstream movie to even hint at the horrendous concentration camp environments that most factory-farm bred animals live in.
Americans eat approximately 1 million animals every day. 1 million! It must also be noted that not all meat products are reserved for use as food; animal feed and fertilizers are often made from blood, meal, meat and bone meal. Gel caps, often used for most herbal remedies, as well as marshmallows, are made from gelatin, the processed hoofs, hide and horns of animals. These animal parts are rendered in plants that use heating vats to attempt to eliminate viruses and bacteria. Mad Cow Disease is resistant to heat. Many cosmetics come from rendered fat. Laboratory tests show that these products can pass infectious BSE agents from animal to animal, and so humans are also susceptible. It does not make sense to be concerned about one’s health by consuming vitamins, minerals and herbs that may come in a vehicle (gelatin) infected with a deadly disease. We simply must stop putting ourselves at risk with our food choices, and encourage all involved industries to stop feeding animals to animals. Be sure to buy health products in guaranteed vegetarian capsules that are gelatin free.
Upon closing, I remember the kind words from a childhood hero:
“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
To a certain degree, it is in our hands to prevent the spread of certain plagues and diseases amongst ourselves and within the precious environment of Mother Earth. We can each make a difference by considering our own health, the health of our economies, the health of our children, and the health of all animals, which are at our mercy, when we make the important choices of how we will eat and how we will live.