When we are experimenting with the health of our children surely the Government must urgently impose tough regulations on those chemicals that are known to mimic hormones. In some cases this will inevitably mean banning or phasing-out their use, but the short-term inconvenience to the chemical industry would be a small price to pay.
Friends of the Earth,
26-28 Underwood Street, N1.
May 28, 1996 ... London Times:
WORRIED mothers who abandon bottle-feeding because of the discovery in baby milk of traces of chemicals which might affect the fertility of boys may be doing do their babies no favours. Studies have shown that breast milk contains traces of chemicals that may be at least as dangerous as those found in infant formulae.
The chemicals are different phthalates in formula milk, and dioxins in breast milk but both belong to the group of chemicals suspected of mimicking the behaviour of natural hormones. Exposure to them in the womb or in the first few weeks of life may affect the sexual development of children, especially boys.
Scandinavian scientists have claimed that one in ten women have such high levels of dioxin in their bodies that they should breast-feed for only a few weeks at most. But the Department of Health, supported by advice from the Committee on the Toxicology of Chemicals, argues that they present no hazard.
The department says breast is still best, in spite of the dioxins. The chemicals are produced by incinerating household waste and are in all our bodies, as are other long-lived chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The fear that these chemicals may have subtle and previously unsuspected effects has turned toxicology on its head. As poisons, they are present in food at levels far below those which would cause damage. But as disrupters of the hormone system in the womb, or the first few months of life, they could do damage at much lower levels. The committee's advice is that although breast-fed babies can receive big doses of dioxins -- up to ten times the tolerable daily intake -- in the early months of life, this is irrelevant over a whole lifetime.
But, at a recent meeting at Lancaster University, Dr Michael DeVito of the US Environmental Protection Agency said this approach ignored the "window of sensitivity" to the hormone-disrupters, according to the newsletter of Environmental Data Services. Whether such a window exists is disputed. Animal experiments and studies of fish in contaminated rivers suggest that some chemicals can affect sexual development. But the potential culprits are many probably thousands.
To focus only on phthalates and only on baby formulae misses the point. For example, tinned vegetables contain bisphenol-A, another potential disrupter. There are traces in the environment of the breakdown products of DDT and PCBs, both prime suspects. The fact that phthalates may be present in gravy browning or in coffee whitener is a side-issue because they are not eaten by infants.
THE baby milk formulas at the centre of the current scare are made mainly from cows' milk with some manufactured from the curds and whey and others based on casein, the milk's protein. A small number are also made from soya beans.
The formulas then have vitamins, fats, minerals and other essential elements added or taken away so that the final, dried product mimics human mother's milk. Phthalates, the group of chemicals implicated in contaminating the formulas, are man-made. They have been used in a wide variety of industrial materials linked with the plastics industry for many years.
The chemicals have been put into special inks used to print on wrappers, labels and other packaging materials. They allow the inks to be flexible so they stick to wrappers without fracturing and flaking off. Phthalates have also been put in cellophane, plastic tubing used in industrial plants and plastic storage containers.
Gwynne Lyons, scientific adviser to the World Wide Fund for Nature and an expert on oestrogen-mimicking chemicals, said yesterday that research in America had also detected the chemicals in crops. Ms Lyons said: "The levels found are probably cumulative. A bit from the field, a bit from the processing and a bit from other sources." She said that concern about phthalates was part of a wider concern surrounding up to 60,000 chemicals linked with a declining sperm count in the West and other environmental effects.
Scientists tested 59 samples from 15 brands and all were found to contain phthalates. Nine brands were said to contain levels of the chemicals close to those found to damage the testicles of baby rats.
Four manufacturers dominate a market worth £134 million a year in Britain, including follow-on formulas, ready-to-feed milks and soya-based milks. The leaders are SMA Nutrition (37 per cent market share), Cow & Gate (37 per cent), Farleys (15 per cent) and Milupa (8 per cent).
In 1993, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug called POSILAC (or BGH or BST). The drug is used to increase the milk production in dairy cows. There are many negative effects that it is having on the cows. This drug also significantly increases cancer risk for humans. Read some of these articles/links, decide for yourself and take action!
|More Damaging News for Monsanto's rBGH:
||Health and Economic Impact Reports Released||BGH: A Political, Econcomic, Ethical and Health Issue
||Ben & Jerry's rBGH (We're Starting a Food Fight!)
||The Dairy Debate: Consquences of Bovine Growth Hormone
||Bovine Somatotropin||Bovine Growth Hormone: What You May Not Know
||Other BGH Related Links
||The POSILAC Label
||rBGH- It's Bad News
||FDA's: New Animal Drug for Increasing Milk Production
Is one brand better than another? This is difficult because the Government refuses to publish the names of brands containing high levels of phthalates. Experts suggest that most, and possibly all, are affected to some extent. Powdered milk made abroad is no safer. Formulas on sale in Britain are made here, the Republic of Ireland, France and Germany. Soya-based milks also were found to be affected.
Should older babies drink cows' milk? Mainstream thinking is that only babies of a year or more should drink cows' milk. It is not regarded as suitable for the newly born as it lacks iron, vitamins and other essential nutrients.
THOUSANDS of anxious parents rang baby-milk manufacturers' helplines yesterday, demanding to know if their products are safe. At the same time ministers and government scientists stepped in to try to calm increasing public concern over the effects of the milk on the future fertility of boy babies. Doctors expect to be inundated today with inquiries from mothers desperate for information.
Ministers refused yesterday to bow to criticism of their refusal to name the 15 brands that tests have shown to contain gender-bending chemicals, called phthalates, at levels that could be high enough to reduce fertility. When similar levels of the chemicals were administered to baby rats in tests by the Medical Research Council their testicles were damaged and sperm counts reduced.
The Ministry of Agriculture stood by its decision not to publish the results of its own research. Dr Jeremy Metters, the Government's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, claimed in a statement that there was no cause for alarm. He urged mothers to carry on using their usual brands of infant formula.
Tim Boswell, an Agriculture Minister, said on Radio 4's World at One: "We are in the business of being open with the public, giving them the facts which are relevant, and I hope they will respond by accepting that ... if we say things are safe, that is what we mean."
The Government received support from Dr Richard Sharpe, Britain's most respected expert on sex-changing chemicals. Dr Sharpe, of Edinburgh's MRC Reproductive Biology Unit, said the controversy was needlessly alarmist, adding: "Infants are not at any significant risk from formula baby-milk powder because of the presence of low levels of phthalates which may have weak oestrogen activity."
The formula-milk industry, worth more than £134 million a year, was surprised by the level of public concern generated by newspaper reports. The Infant and Dietetic Foods Association, which represents the industry, said last night that there was no need for the Government to identify the contaminated brands because it was already acknowledged as an industry-wide problem.
Several of the chemicals, including detergents, plastic additives, pesticides and the by-products of incineration, have been accused of mimicking the female hormone oestrogen in laboratory tests. Other chemicals appear to block the male, androgen, hormones to cause a similar feminising effect.
Researchers around the world have linked these chemicals to an increase in cases of undescended testes, a lowering of sperm counts and a rise in female breast cancer.
The new policy would allow companies applying to register products that had previously been registered by the original manufacturer "to certify that acute toxicity studies submitted to the agency in support of registration were conducted properly and that the reported toxicity category for each is accurate," the EPA said.
Studies on the long-term effects of products, such as their potential for causing cancer or birth defects, would remain under close watch, Heier said. The goal of the new policy is to allow the agency to shift resources to "areas that have the potential to deliver greater overall public health protection," the EPA said.
May 29, 1996 ... Copyright 1996 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
The Economist, v339, n7962, p71(3)
April 20, 1996
TAKE two cows. One is a marvel of high-tech farming. It lolls in the straw in a giant shed at a farm-research centre outside London. It has been bred by artificial insemination and vaccinated against a variety of diseases. Once a year it has antibiotics inserted up its teats. Round its neck is an electronic signalling device which opens its personal feed-bin. This animal produces 12,000kg (over 25,000lb) of milk every year, roughly twice as much as Britain's average dairy cow.
The other, nonchalantly chewing the cud on an organic farm in Oxfordshire, is surrounded by a circle of admirers. For today the farm is open to the public. Visitors, worried by the recent mad-cow scare, have flocked from miles around. This cow was sired by a live bull, not a pipette. It eats no manufactured feed, and its blood is free from drugs. Crops grown on the farm are fertilised by its manure, not by some chemical cocktail. The trouble is that the milk produced by this cow is more expensive than intensively farmed milk. Many visitors may be inspired by the cow's back-to-nature feeeling. Fewer will buy its milk.
That is the dilemma confronting consumers throughout the world. Increasing numbers of people in rich countries have doubts about modern farming methods. But few, so far, are willing to give up the cheap food these methods have brought. Even fewer consumers in developing countries are willing to make the sacrifice, for farming technology has saved millions of them from starvation.
In the 1970s, when world food prices last reached a peak, many pundits argued that mass starvation was imminent because the world's population was growing so fast. Like Thomas Malthus, the 19th-century economist who first made the argument, they were proved wrong. They failed to take account of the "green revolution" in farm productivity. Farmers throughout the world began to apply pesticides and fertilisers to their crops. Irrigation allowed barren lands to bloom. Scientists devised more productive strains of cereals.
The result has been a steady increase in yields (in Asia, wheat yields rose fivefold between 1961 and 1991); a long-run trend of falling food prices (see chart on next page); and a fall in the number of people classed by the United Nations as chronically undernourished (from 942 million in 1970 to a still-awful 786 million in 1990).
So how seriously should the detractors of modern farming (many of them rich- world lobby groups) be taken? Their many criticisms can be separated into three main strands: that food from high-tech farms is bad for people's health, that intensive farming damages the environment, and that it is bad for animal welfare. Consider each of these points in turn. Unhealthy?
On one level the answer to the first criticism is simple. Without modern farming technology more people would be starving today. Without it more people would be suffering from deadly illnesses (the pasteurisation of milk, for example, has cut the incidence of tuberculosis and scarlet fever). Even today, inadequate nutrition contributes to horrible illnesses in poor countries. Every year, according to IFPRI, the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC, 250,000-500,000 children go blind due to vitamin-A deficiency.
There is no doubt, however, that some illnesses can be linked to modern farming methods. In particular, manufactured animal feeds have probably helped spread salmonella food poisoning and BSE (mad-cow disease). Meat and bone meal, for example, have long been used in animal feeds for herbivores such as cows because they are high in protein. Yet many scientists reckon that BSE first spread to cows as a result of their being fed on bits of sheep infected by scrapie (and in Britain the problem may have been made worse by not boiling down the feed at sufficiently high temperatures to destroy the infectious agent).
The bacterium that causes salmonella (which sometimes kills people but mostly just makes them sick) occurs naturally in chickens. But scientists reckon that the infection may have been made worse in British chickens in the 1980s (as notoriously noted by the then junior health minister, Edwina Currie) because they were fed bits of other infected chickens. Packing birds tightly together in sheds probably helped salmonella spread even faster.
The way that food is handled and cooked, however, is as important as the way that it is farmed. Both salmonella bacteria and E. coli (a bacterium which recently caused a number of deaths in America when it got into hamburger mince) can be killed by proper cooking. And many types of food contamination are as likely to occur in organic as in intensively farmed food. Grains, nuts and dried fruit, those favourites of natural-food addicts, frequently develop moulds that make dangerous chemicals known as mycotoxins. "The worst cases of poisoning I've come across are among health-food enthusiasts," says Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition at King's College, London.
Another common complaint against intensively farmed food is that it is contaminated with pesticides or other farm chemicals. Yet regulations throughout the rich world restrict the level of such chemical residues in food. There is no evidence that chemicals applied within these limits will harm human health, according to John Lupien, director of food and nutrition at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome.
As the alchemist Paracelsus observed, there are no poisons, only poisonous doses. Virtually anything is toxic, provided you eat enough of it. In a recent book called "But Is It True?"*, Aaron Wildavsky, until his death professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, examined a series of health scares in America. He started with the cranberry scare of 1959 when the government seized over 1,400 tonnes of the fruit because of suspected contamination by weed-killer. Looking closely at the scientific evidence, Wildavsky argued that most such scares have been exaggerated. And many, he said, were triggered by flawed experiments in which animals were given huge doses of a chemical in the hope that this would help predict the effects of minute doses on humans.
A lot of the suspicions that surround intensive-farming techniques boil down to a distrust of technology in general. For example, many consumers take fright if they learn that their food has been irradiated with gamma rays, or that their beef has been reared on growth hormones. Yet nutritionists scoff at both these worries. A group of scientists brought together by FAO and the World Health Organisation (WHO), for example, has concluded that irradiation is perfectly safe, provided it is properly controlled. Giving food a short burst of radiation can kill pathogens and prevent spoilage. The same technique is often used to sterilise instruments in hospitals.
Another scientific commission organised by FAO and WHO concluded that growth hormones were safe. It is true that animals given anabolic steroids, such as testosterone, will build up their muscles more quickly (as will drug-taking athletes). But provided that cattle are given correct doses of such steroids, the amounts ingested by people will be too small to have any effect on health.
So why are consumers not reassured? With irradiation, the explanation may be the association in many people's minds with dodgy power stations and nuclear bombs. And with growth hormones, farm politics may also play a part. The European Union, for example, bans the use of growth hormones, ostensibly to maintain "consumer confidence" in beef. American farmers--who are allowed to use such hormones--say this is a ploy to keep their beef out of the European market.
Destructive? The evidence that modern farming has hurt the environment is much stronger than the evidence that it has damaged human health. Fertilisers and herbicides are often washed off the land into rivers and reservoirs. Fertilisers contain nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates which encourage algae to multiply. Algal slime sometimes chokes waterways, killing plants and fish.
Environmentalists also link nitrates in the water supply to human illnesses such as stomach cancer, though tough regulations throughout the rich world ensure that quantities in water are too small to harm anyone.
These days environmentalists in rich countries are particularly concerned about biotechnology. This new science, which allows direct manipulation of the genetic make-up of plants and animals, may yet revolutionise farm productivity. So far it has produced some modest gains such as the "Flav'r Sav'r" tomato in America, which is designed to ripen more slowly than ordinary tomatoes. Though an old-fashioned and long-winded form of genetic manipulation (ie, selective breeding) has taken place for centuries, environmentalists worry about the unforeseen consequences of this more powerful technique. After all, no one can fully predict how organisms crafted in a laboratory will interact with existing plants and animals.
In developing countries, meanwhile, the green revolution has had some un- green side-effects. Irrigation, for example, has destroyed large tracts of land as well as boosting crop yields. Without proper drainage, soils can become waterlogged. Irrigation water can also deposit salts in the soil--and too much salt can damage plants.
Excessive salinity is estimated to have a serious effect on the productivity of 20 million-30 million hectares (80,000-120,000 square miles) of land around the world (out of a total of around 220 million hectares of irrigated land). Elsewhere, the huge amount of water needed for irrigation has led to worries about scarcity, and even to fears of future wars over water. In parts of southern India, water tables are estimated to have fallen by as much as 25-30 metres in a decade.
Though chemical pesticides wiped out many pests in the early years of the green revolution, some insects and fungi have evolved resistance. Other pests, such as the brown plant-hopper, have thrived in some rice crops in Asia because insecticides have killed off their natural predators. A problem of intensive farming everywhere is its reliance on fewer varieties of plant or animal (artificial insemination, for example, means that a single bull can father some 2,000 offspring each year). Reducing the genetic base in this way may boost efficiency, but it also increases the risk that one type of pest will infest a whole harvest.
Few would deny that modern agricultural technology has caused environmental problems. The more perplexing question is how to solve them. Some solutions can be borrowed from old-fashioned farming techniques. Planting a number of different crop varieties, for instance, can help spread risks from pests and diseases, and also block their progress once they get going. And many farm- research bodies around the world are now trumpeting the idea of "integrated pest management".
This involves using chemical pesticides only when absolutely necessary. Breeding plants which are resistant to pests, and making more use of natural predators to attack pests, is preferred. In Africa the mealy-bug--an insect that destroys cassava--was eliminated in many countries by employing the services of another insect, a small, parasitic wasp. According to Per Pinstrup-Andersen of IFPRI, since Indonesian farmers switched to such a scheme about a decade ago pesticide use has dropped by more than 60% and rice yields have risen at least 40%.
At the same time, a full-scale switch to pre-green-revolutionary farming methods would not only reduce food supply (and lead, in India alone, to 400 million people going hungry, according to IFPRI). It could also, argues Dr Pinstrup-Andersen, damage the environment even more than the green revolution itself. In order to compensate for lower output from each plot of land, there would need to be a dramatic expansion of the amount of land under cultivation. This would involve clearing many delicate ecosystems, such as mountainsides and forests. Even today, small farmers who clear land for agriculture are responsible for around two-thirds of the destruction of rainforests each year.
A better solution may be to accept that modern farming technology is here to stay, but to smooth its rough edges. Governments in many rich countries are trying harder to enforce regulations on the run-off of fertilisers from farms. In many countries, both water and farm chemicals are heavily subsidised. Making farmers pay the full cost of such inputs would cut their use, and hence reduce environmental damage.
New technologies may also provide an answer. Farmers in Israel have managed to cut the amount of irrigation water they need by using pipes containing pinholes to drip water close to each plant. And biotechnology, whatever its risks, should allow farmers to reduce their use of chemicals. Scientists have recently devised a new strain of maize that is resistant to the European corn-borer, another damaging insect pest. This should cut the need for pesticides.
In the vast grain-growing plains of America's mid-west, a monstrous vehicle is helping to reduce fertiliser run-off. The machine is loaded with a variety of fertilisers, which are sprayed from a multitude of pipes extending on either side. Traditionally, many farmers apply fertilisers uniformly across a field. With this technology, a farmer starts by taking soil samples at regular intervals throughout his land--with each position recorded to within a few centimetres using global positioning satellites. The nutrients in each soil sample are analysed to work out exactly how much fertiliser, and of what type, is required. The vehicle is then driven through the field, varying the mix of fertilisers as it moves. A computer in the cabin uses the satellites to work out where the vehicle is, and calculates what mixture to apply.
By reducing the risk that too much fertiliser is applied, this method ensures that less will be washed off by rain--an advantage to the farmer as well as to the environment. The machinery, supplied by Cargill, a multinational commodity firm, is expensive, but some farmers have already cut their fertiliser costs; better targeting of fertilisers should eventually boost yields too.
Cruel and unnatural? Though the fashion has yet to catch on in most developing countries, consumers in the rich world are increasingly worried about animal welfare. Britons are way ahead of other nationalities in this respect: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1824, is the world's oldest animal-welfare group, and one of its largest. Last year thousands of Britons protested against the export of live calves (the animals are crammed into lorries for days without food). Animal lobby groups are also thriving elsewhere in northern Europe and throughout America.
These groups claim that intensive farming is cruel. Their evidence appears strong. In a quest for efficiency, many modern farmers stick hens in cages so small that they cannot scratch at the ground. Turkeys are crammed by their thousands into windowless sheds, their beaks cut off to prevent aggression. Pigs are confined to stalls which prevent them from turning around. And mycotoxin-producing moulds grow as well on badly kept cattle feed as on the nibbles of natural-food lovers.
These practices are undoubtedly disgusting. Whether animals have rights, or whether people have moral obligations to animals, are questions for philosophy and ethics rather than for science. But science does have a contribution to make to this debate, if only to remind those who are concerned for the welfare of animals that a shift away from intensive farming will not always improve the animals' lot.
Sir Colin Spedding, retired professor of agricultural systems at Reading University in Britain, argues that animal welfarists tend to have a "preoccupation with animal freedom". Given complete freedom, chickens in a free-range farm will often bully and peck at each other, he points out. They may also catch more infections because they can peck around in each other's faeces.
Recall the intensively farmed cow mentioned at the start of this article. It is part of a herd bred by ADAS, a British farm consultancy, to investigate ways of boosting yields without damaging the animals' welfare. Its enormous productivity is explained partly by selective breeding, but also by careful, individual management. There is, according to Bridget Drew, head of dairy research at ADAS, nothing more costly than a cow that has a problem.
The cows are given the teat antibiotics to prevent mastitis, a common infection which leads to a painful inflammation of the udder. Every week, they are weighed and put through a foot bath, to avoid foot infections. The mix of their diet is calculated by computer so that it includes the right combination of nutrients. It is also designed to encourage the cows to eat amply (hence it includes molasses, a bovine delicacy).
In addition, the cows are milked three times a day--more than the average in Britain. This improves their yield, but may also reduce the discomfort they feel from over-distended udders. All this treatment requires more manpower and equipment than the average dairy herd, yet the profits per cow are still higher, according to ADAS.
In sum, the complaint that high-tech farming is bad for animal welfare is only partly true. It is in danger of missing the point that technology has also brought gains for animal welfare and--on some farms--may continue to do so.
Such arguments will not convince everyone. For behind all these complaints about modern farming lies an assumption which is rooted deep in the minds of many people. This is that modern farming is a subversion of nature, and that plants and animals would in general do much better without human interference.
The idea has an instinctive appeal, especially to the many city-dwellers who long for a more natural existence. Yet it relies on a distinction between the human and the natural worlds which may not coincide with reality.
Many species depend on one another to thrive. Ants have farmed aphids and edible moulds for millions of years and, though they do not eat the aphids, the moulds are consumed as a crop. These arrangements came about by the normal processes of natural selection.
One way of interpreting the emergence of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago, is that humans and domestic animals have developed a similar mutually beneficial relationship. In his book "The Covenant of the Wild"*, Stephen Budiansky, a science writer, popularises the argument that some animal and plant species "chose" (in evolutionary terms) to become domesticated, even though it meant that many individuals of those species would end up in people's stomachs. Before deliberate selective breeding got going there was a period when natural selection worked to fit the ancestors of today's sheep, cattle and cereals into a symbiotic relationship with people.
Mr Budiansky points out that many wild species now face extinction, but that, thanks to agriculture, the world population of sheep and cattle exceeds 1 billion--a spectacular evolutionary success. None of this is to deny the drawbacks of modern farming. But it suggests that the "nature" to which so many people would like farmers to return is neither as easy to define, nor as benign, as is often imagined.
St. Petersburg Times (PE) - FRIDAY March 29, 1996
TAMPERING WITH THE NATURAL FOOD CHAIN SCARY THING TO DO
By: WILBUR G. LANDREY
TURIN, Italy - In the growing crisis over mad cow disease and the safety of eating beef, it may have surprised most of us that the cattle that used to graze grass down home on the range have been turned into cannibals.
In the intensive industrial production of meat and milk, they eat the protein meals that can be salvaged from the bones and offal of other animals. And if, as now appears apparent, animal diseases can be transmitted to humans, nature may be having its revenge.
Cattle also eat fish, pigs eat poultry, chickens eat parts of their own eggs, all in the name of greater production and efficiency. How much of a danger this is, if any, is still unknown. But the scare in Europe raises questions about these practices of industrial farming.
And in advance, the scare has ruined the lunch of the 15 heads of state and government meeting in this northern Italian city today for an hour of speeches to launch a year of meetings to decide the next steps toward European unity.
Checking into my hotel here, the first thing I was handed was a note that ""neither beef nor veal coming from Great Britain will be served in our restaurants.''
Of course, not all meat, milk and eggs are produced by the intensive methods that began to come into use, I think, sometime in the early 1960s if not before. But cattle are what the dictionary defines as herbivores that eat vegetation, and many still do. Feeding them the additives and substitutes that some eat today may in effect make them carnivores.
While science has greatly improved our food and health, increased production and defeated diseases, tampering with the natural food chain raises the shivers of the unknown.
Last week's announcement of a possible connection between the mad cow disease BSI (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that destroys the human brain has thrown a rock into the placid pool of our assurance.
Who knows where the ripples will stop?
Phoenix Gazette (PG) - Friday, March 29, 1996
'MAD-COW' ILL RAISES U.S. FEARS
BAN ON MEAT SCRAPS IN ANIMAL FEED MULLED
By: Scripps Howard
WASHINGTON - In its quest for bigger, faster-growing animals, the American livestock industry has turned to feeds boosted with protein derived from other animals for more than 25 years.
But now, the possible link between those proteins and an aberrant protein that attacks brain cells in sheep, cattle, mink and man has raised new concern about the use of meat scraps in animal feed. U.S. officials stress that no cattle in the United States have turned up with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad-cow disease," since an outbreak of the disease in Britain resulted in a 1989 ban on imports and increased surveillance of U.S. herds containing earlier British imports.
Nor has there been any increase in the number of diagnosed U.S. cases of the human form of the sickness, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. "We are confident we're safe," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickmen said this week, noting that increased spot inspections were being conducted at major slaughterhouses.
"BSE doesn't pose a threat in the U.S., but as a precaution, people should not eat cattle brains or sheep brains," said Pennsylvania State University veterinary virologist Anthony Castro, who adds that he has seen no evidence that the disease can be passed to humans. Yet some scientists and food-safety groups are concerned that the type of disease and the path of infection found in Britain might be different in the United States and require different protective steps.
In light of the new evidence from Britain that bovine spongiform encephalopathy may be transmissible to humans, the United States may move ahead with a proposed ban on using rendered products from mature sheep and goats, which has been in limbo since 1994. Critics say such a step would be insufficient to protect animal and human health.
Sheep in Britain and the United States suffer from a version of the brain disease called scrapie, and it is believed the disease in British cows was passed on when dairy cattle were fed rendered sheep parts as a protein supplement.
U.S. industry officials say cattle are not fed proteins from rendered sheep, although government officials note there's no way to be certain ofthis because there's no way to test a rendered product for sheep ingredients. Proteins from rendered cattle are routinely added to the feed of other cows, however.
"Animal agriculture is a grisly, grisly business," said Scott Williams of the Farm Animal Reform Movement. "You may imagine a contented cow chewing on its cud, but that cow is more likely being fattened on the intestines of its slaughtered comrades."
Veterinary scientist Richard Marsh of the University of Wisconsin first detected a species jump in a neurological ill in 1985 at a mink farm. There, animals had been fed byproducts from "downer cows," animals that mysteriously fall down and never get up.
When Marsh and colleagues injected cows with brain material from scrapie-diseased sheep, they developed the downed-cow symptoms rather than the more aggressive, rambling behavior of British cows with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Marsh argues that the USDA surveillance program looking only for cows exhibiting the British symptoms completely ignores the possibility that the disease is different here.
Each year, about 100,000 cows in the United States succumb to the downer-cow syndrome, and most end up in rendering plants and products ranging from protein supplements to gelatin used to make drug capsules.
Marsh has convinced some colleagues that the diagnostic net for cows should be cast wider, but neither the USDA nor the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates animal feeds, has concluded there is justification either for wider testing or a ban on feeding cow remains to cows.
The crisis for British beef peaked this month, when a scientific advisory panel said it could find no credible reason, other than contact with bovine spongiform encephalopathy-diseased beef, for 10 relatively young Britons to contract Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease strikes one person in a million, and it is usually an older person.
All spongiform encephalopathy diseases appear to progress by some agent attacking and destroying cells in the brain, causing confusion and dementia, creating holes in brain tissue and then physical debilitation and death. There is no known treatment or even a proven test for the disease before death occurs.
Ronnie Cummins, national director for the advocacy group Pure Food Campaign, said that if doubts about protein-enhanced beef were to spread in the United States as they have it Britain, "you'd probably see the practice of animal cannibalism disappear almost overnight."
GOVERNMENT'S PROMOTION OF BEEF AT ODDS WITH HEALTH GUIDELINESOregonian (PO) - TUESDAY, May 21, 1996
Edition: SUNRISE Section: EDITORIAL Page: B08
To the Editor: Now I am really confused.
Over the past few years, I have been reading in your pages about the impact of meat-eating on obesity, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases, about E. coli and salmonella epidemics, about ``mad cow disese,'' shortages of grains used to fatten farm animals, and loss of topsoil from animal-feed croplands.
More recently, I read that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was endorsing meatless eating in its dietary guidelines and promoting more grains, vegetables and fruits in the school lunch program. I learned that meat consumption was dropping and that producers were cutting back.
I was relieved that the forces of national preservation and market economics seemed to be working after all. I even considered that my government could be genuinely concerned about my health and welfare, rather than its own.
But my faith was crushed by news that President Clinton decided to dump $50 million of surplus beef on America's school children and to allow cattle grazing on 35 million acres of erosion-prone land set aside for future generations (May 1).
Do cattle producers have more votes than consumers? Or just more money?