The Truth About BSE

By treatyrockbeef - Last updated: Saturday, April 9, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Farmers Market Friends:

This week’s FARM FACT explores the truth about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) also called “mad cow disease”.  This is a fatal affliction in cattle caused by a mutated protein called a “prion” responsible creating sponge-like vacuoles (holes) in brain and nerve tissue resulting in an inability to stand followed by loss of brain function and death.  The condition can and has moved quickly and explosively through feedlot cattle populations that ingest protein supplements derived from recycled infected animal remains.  Cows, ruminants designed to process grass and forbs in their four stomachs, were eating other cows.  That’s normal, right ??


BSE is of particular concern because it has been shown to be transmissible to humans through consumption of infected meat (primarily nerve tissue) where it shows up as the mentally debilitating and potentially fatal Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.  80 people died of the disease during the British BSE outbreak in the mid 1980′s.

While the vector of the virus into the British cattle population is not known for sure (possibly slaughterhouse cross-contamination from similar disease found in sheep), BSE surely gained speed and spread rapidly due to the disgusting practice of adding cooked and ground meat and bone meal into the rations.  The feedlots needed to find a cheap source of protein to put weight on the animals since they didn’t like the idea of giving them the space and time to develop naturally using on-site forage.  Soy, a common feedlot protein source in US, is expensive in Britain because it doesn’t grow there and needs to be shipped.  Animal remains looked like a good option but heating things up gets expensive too so rendering temperatures were reduced as a cost-savings measure.  Here lay the problem since the prion remains viable up to very high temperatures.  Infected animal protein was being fed out and things got out of control in a hurry.

Well, nobody wanted to admit the scope of the problem and cause panic so it went on for a year or more and before it was over 179,000 cattle died of the disease and another 4.4 million were slaughtered as a precaution.  Estimates put the number of BSE-infected cattle that entered the human food chain at somewhere between 460,000 and 480,000.  Meat industry executives and agriculture ministers skated essentially clean, admonished with some finger shaking but laying most of the blame on bureaucratic procedure.  How does your farm-raised beef that eats only plants sound now ??

Rhode Island’s own Don Minto from Watson Farm was responsible for bringing a number of grass-fed Red Devons over here from England and is credited with preserving important genetic lines of this proud breed at a time when many herds were being killed.  We still feel the fallout from that nightmare due to the fact that the spine be removed from any cow or steer deemed to be over 30 months old (the incubation period for the BSE virus).  Even though our 100% grass-fed animals could never contract the disease we are required to meet the standard created for the feedlot animals that still represent the vast majority of beef in the market today.

In the United States and Canada, the ground-up remains of cattle and other ruminants, or animals that chew a cud, were banned as ingredients for cattle supplements in 1997. But the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, twice criticized U.S. enforcement of the ban as lax up until 2001.

The United States had its own case of BSE in Washington State in 2003, credited to animal-based feed supplement in Alberta, Canada given to young dairy calves separated from their mother at two weeks of age and raised on manufactured feed so as to keep her milk in production rather than waste it on sustaining a young animal. These are the choices that livestock industry people make, decisions that would never be made by a farm owner raising his or her animals with respect and dignity.  Now it’s your turn to choose.  By the way,  heated and ground chicken feathers and broiler litter (soiled wood shavings or chopped sugar cane bedding from chicken confinement growing operations) is still a legal component of protein supplement for cattle feed.  While it is true that natural pasture consumed by cattle contains insects, feces, and other matter in small amounts, the poultry industry by-products fed to cattle contain a vastly higher concentration of fecal waste, if that’s what you like.

Save 10% off your Treaty Rock Farm purchase of 100% grass-fed & dry-aged beef raised LOCALLY, NATURALLY & HUMANELY this coming Saturday 4/9/11 at South Kingstown Farmers Market by telling me what BSE stands for.

Respecting the Protein, PMB

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