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New York Times BSE Fallacies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Tuesday, 30 August 2005
AFF Sentinel Vol.2, #42

Sobering List of Errors Shows BSE Education Battle Far From Over

If you've been paying attention and saw the New York Times BSE editorial, you probably spotted some factual errors in their activist diatribe. The editorial serves as a stark reminder of how much difficulty the industry will face on certain issues. If a large-market, supposed mainstream media beacon can get something so wrong, with nearly 20 years of research to draw on and many reliable sources to consult, it should serve as a warning to the beef industry. Future issues that are more complex, more controversial, involve difficult politics and call for debunking long-believed myths will be far more difficult.

We'll go through just a few of the most egregious errors from the Times editorial, in case you run into such allegations elsewhere.

Meat and bone meal is not a "staple" of cattle rations. It is illegal to feed to ruminants, for one thing. And the Times scenario that it could be easily available and fed by mistake or fed illegally reveals the Times poor understanding of today's agriculture. Today's feedyards virtually never have hogs or poultry on the property. In even the small percentage of cattle fed where this could happen, say in the Corn Belt where the same operator might feed hogs and cattle, different specie feeding pens are unlikely to sit next to each other. As for using the egg mash or the broiler ration to feed cattle - that's too ludicrous to discuss.

In addition, MBM was used in different quantities and for different reasons in Europe than in America. Lacking a supply of soybean meal or linseed oil meal as a source of protein, Europe used MBM as a protein supplement. MBM was used in the U.S. in the past as a very small portion of the ration as a mineral supplement to boost calcium and phosphorus levels. Most brood cow herds getting any supplemental feeding at all would get cubes or blocks manufactured by feed mills under supervision and regulation and they would not be adding MBM to cattle formulations. Otherwise, cattlemen don't just go scrounging around the place to see what they can mix up to feed the cows. Besides, you can't feed that kind of home-mixed ration off the ground.

Back on their poultry hang-up, chicken litter is just not used to feed cattle. Even years ago, it was a minuscule segment. No one I know has seen it in many years. NCBA has surveyed major feedyards and found none who have used it since the '97 feed ban. They also surveyed nutritionists overseeing 90 percent of the nation's fed cattle and none of them even considers it an option.

Part of the fear mongering surrounding BSE has to do with the lack of understanding of infection and dosage for both diseases. Amplified by R-CALF's inaccurate claims, people seem to believe that a tiny speck of BSE infective material is all it takes to infect another bovine. But that has not been borne out by 20 years of observation and tracking. Out of dozens to hundreds of cattle fed together, almost never does more than one animal contract BSE in a herd. It does not spread like wildfire, adding to the evidence that tiny amounts do not cause BSE.

As for humans and vCJD, we do have the French study published in the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet that estimates several pounds of infectious nervous system material would be necessary to cause infection.

Beyond that, we again have the simple empirical evidence. If a cell or two were all it took to cause vCJD in humans, we would have many more cases worldwide. In fact, Bryan Oedzes of the American Veal Association noted that we now have data from the first 20 years of the estimated 5 to 25 years of incubation period from Britain's first infections. If vCJD was easily contracted, Britain would be experiencing huge vCJD infection rates from the estimated 700,000 infected animals that went into their food supply. Instead, not only has the number of vCJD cases not been of epidemic proportions - the annual number of cases peaked at 28 worldwide in 2000 - but the trend line has been decreasing since then. That does not indicate an easily engendered infection.

Next Time: More Errors Foster Unfounded Fears

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 June 2006 )
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