Agribusiness Freedom Foundation  
Home arrow Sentinel e-Newsletter arrow May 2005 arrow Smoke Gets in Their Eyes
Main Menu
About AFF
Latest Op/Ed Release
Sentinel e-Newsletter
Newsletter Signup
Staff Bios
Make A Contribution
Contact Us
Smoke Gets in Their Eyes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Thursday, 05 May 2005
AFF Sentinel Vol. 2, #20

R-CALF Attempts Sleight of Mind to Confuse the Issues, Connect the Unrelated

Obfuscate vt.- To obscure, make hard to understand, to cloud over, make unclear, confuse,muddle. See R-CALF.

Okay, so my dictionaries do not include the R- CALF reference in the definitions reproduced above. But the definition is real and sure fits their approach.

Perhaps feeling itself losing battles in the arena of public opinion within the beef industry, R-CALF released a pile of numbers and its interpretation of those numbers last week, apparently in an effort to bolster its position. Their conclusion was that Canada was not testing enough cattle, that they were decreasing testing levels and that we should care.

Every cattle producer knows that beef production is a seasonal thing, related to weaning time and biological cycles more than anything else. It would be expected that more cows would go to town in November than in October, and more in December than in November, especially in a northern country where 90 to 95 percent of their cows are spring calvers. It would also follow that slaughter numbers after the first of the year would be smaller than the fall.

But R-CALF tried to draw a correlation between normal seasonal slaughter drops from December to January to the Canadians deliberately lowering testing levels in January in response to the December and January discoveries of BSE cows.

It is a ridiculous conclusion on the face of it but the real point is that their whole six-page "analysis" is just smoke, nothing more.

The core of the matter rests on these facts:

  • Testing cattle for BSE is a surveillance and monitoring system to determine existence or prevalence of a cattle disease in a cattle herd. It has nothing to do with human health or food safety. Testing cattle helps in evaluating the adequacy of the systems in place to protect animals.
  • Specified Risk Material (SRM) removal at harvest is the mechanism for eliminating risk to human health from beef consumption. This mechanism has nothing to do with testing or testing levels for a disease in cattle. Whether the U.S. has no BSE or any level of BSE in the cattle herd, SRM removal is already in place to protect consumers under any eventuality.
  • BSE is not a contagious disease in cattle. Canadian cattle are not a threat to "give" BSE to U.S. cattle.

There are related issues, but these three facts are the heart of the matter. Surveillance testing - at whatever level - is a separate, animal health issue from SRM removal, which is a human health and food safety issue. If the U.S. found 10 BSE cows tomorrow, no change in U.S. harvest procedures would be likely. We're already doing what is necessary to protect consumers from BSE. No matter how much smokescreen R-CALF's public relations efforts and legal maneuvers use to try to obscure our view of the scene, those are the facts.

R-CALF keeps trying to make an issue of testing levels in Canada vs. the U.S. and the rest of the world. The truth is, there is a lot more testing of cattle going on in the world than is necessary, including the U.S. The extra testing, especially testing under-30-month-old cattle in parts of the world, is intended to boost consumer confidence, a public relations move. It is not necessary to protect human health at all. The SRM removal at harvest makes beef safe. Testing cattle does not.

Moreover, over-testing is its own form of obfuscation because it encourages consumers to make a connection between cattle testing levels and food safety when there is none. Especially in Europe, it obscures the real science and responds instead to unreasoning fear, which is somewhat understandable. After all, their public is the same one that regarded genetically modified foods as witchcraft or a plot for food corporations to poison their own customers.

The feed ban eliminates the source of new BSE infections, and the elimination of ruminant materials from feed eliminates the spread of infection. These measures are intended to eliminate BSE in cattle.

It is a common tactic for demagogues and activists to tell only part of the story or point out one irrelevant statistic and then harp and harp on it. Both tactics obscure the truth and confuse observers.

Regardless of how cattlemen can see through the smoke, R-CALF still holds the upper hand in the legal arena, at least for now. Its beliefs make it willing to use such tactics and they have found attorneys and courts willing to go along with its fear mongering, catering to emotional fears rather than facts.

Emotions can be real and strong - but wrong, inappropriate and out of proportion. Proposed solutions can deal with the facts and resolve problems...or they can instead answer to the emotions and an obscured and faulty interpretation of the facts. The latter is R-CALF's modus operandi. The beef industry is learning to understand that and to deal with it. Question is, will the courts see it for what it is?

Next time: What About Those Numbers?

Email your comments to the author


Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 June 2006 )
< Previous
designed by