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Political Science
— by Lee Pitts

On her way out the door to take a job with the UN´s UNICEF, Outgoing Ag Secretary Ann Veneman said she saw no reason to delay reopening the U.S. border to Canadian cattle. "Unless the investigation turns up something that is drastically different than the assumptions that were made in putting together the rule, I wouldn´t see a reason to change it," she said.

Ah-hah! If you reread Veneman´s parting remarks you´ll notice that she admitted that the USDA based their rule to reopen the border on ASSUMPTIONS. If I remember my high school science correctly I recall that assumptions are used to develop theories and theories, Queen Ann, are not scientific fact. And yet the USDA has maintained from the beginning that their actions were based on sound science

The USDA is not the only bunch hiding behind a veil of science fiction. When the rumor hit the streets that the NCBA might be reconsidering its position on reopening the Canadian border to live cattle in early March, R-CALF´s President Leo McDonnell sent a letter to Jan Lyons, President of the NCBA. In the letter McDonnell suggested that NCBA join together with R-CALF to defeat USDA´s Final Rule to reopen the border. "The resulting demonstration of unity by the U.S. cattle industry will undoubtedly convince Congress to act decisively to veto USDA´s Final Rule," McDonnell wrote.

As you´d expect, Lyons wanted no part of R-CALF´s proposal. She said that "we do not support litigation as the preferred means to reach a solution." Instead she said the NCBA supports a "science-based" set of regulations. This echoed her earlier comments week´s earlier when she said, "Members of the NCBA are committed to normalizing global trade based on science that protects the health of our industry."

The NCBA and the USDA have repeatedly stated that their decisions are based on the s-word: SCIENCE. As if that´s a subject far too complicated for commoners like us. So let´s call their bluff and really look at some of the science behind BSE.

Science Fiction

Here is some of the science that the USDA and the NCBA failed to consider in their attempt to reopen the border as soon as possible: Ag

  • Secretary Ann Veneman´s own Advisory Committee on Foreign Animal and Poultry Diseases cautioned against making any relaxation in BSE protections until a thorough and scientific risk assessment could be completed. According to R-CALF, "the USDA did not conduct any type of a quantitative or supportable qualitative assessment of the risk they would be subjecting the American consumer to in reopening the border." All the USDA did was say that Canadian cattle provided a "low" risk but they never quantified what "low" was.
  • In defining Canada as a "low risk BSE country" the USDA went against the advice of the international scientific community. According to documents made public by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the USDA tried to get OIE to lower their standards regarding a minimum eight-year meat-and-bone meal (MBM) feed ban so that Canada could be called a "BSE minimal risk country."
    When the scientists at OIE rejected USDA´s request to relax their standards the USDA made up their own rules. The USDA said Canada should be considered a "minimal" BSE-risk country because it had complied with OTHER measures.
    R-CALF´s Bill Bullard says that the USDA is wrong in claiming that the scientific standards established by OIE do not need to be followed. "USDA has repeatedly rejected OIE´s science-based minimal criteria for designating a country as a "minimal" BSE-risk country, arguing instead that Canada´s good-faith intentions to reduce BSE are appropriate substitutes for objective, science-based evidence. USDA´s optimistic assumptions are now being discredited by emerging data," said Bullard, "and available data collected since 2001 suggest a BSE incidence in Canada on the same order of that of the most BSE-affected countries in the world." According to international scientific standards Canada qualifies only as a "moderate" BSE-risk country and as such should be practicing more intense BSE mitigation measures than those already implemented.
  • Not only has the USDA disregarded international scientific standards they have also ignored real-world events. Following a shocking exposé in the Vancouver Sun about the disregard for Canada´s meat and bone meal ban, the Calgary Herald charged that "Health Canada buried a 2000 report that warned that BSE was already ‘silently incubating´ in the Canadian herd." In addition, investigative journalists at the Calgary Herald found that, "Canada´s feed ban was highly permissive, allowing some dangerous products, such as cattle blood, to be used in feed and that Canada continued to import questionable products, such as cattle tallow and blood, and even animal feed, from areas that had severe BSE problems, like France." Health Canada also found that feed processors were putting parts from hogs and chickens into cattle feed, thus creating a situation ripe for cross-contamination.
  • NCBA President and apparent amateur scientist, Jan Lyons, has made the statement that "feed bans break the cycle of the disease."
    Yes Jan, but that assumes the feed bans are real and enforced.
    Both the USDA and NCBA assumed the Canadian meat and bone meal ban is effective despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary. In a 2004 Canadian Food Inspection Agency study 71 percent of Canadian feed labeled as vegetable-only had animal protein in it. Canadian investigators also revealed that 2,000 head of Canadian cattle may have been exposed to BSE-contaminated feed because the May 2003 Canadian mad cow was rendered and not destroyed. Yes, you read that right. Unbelievably, Canada did not completely destroy the BSE-infected cow. Instead, the mad cow was processed into animal feeds and, according to USDA, those feeds were distributed to as many as 1,800 sites where some of it could have been consumed by Canadian cattle. These are cattle that could be posed to come across the border in early March.
  • The USDA should know that feed bans are not universally obeyed because the U.S. Government Accounting Office study in 2002 showed inadequate enforcement and significant noncompliance among feed manufacturers in this country after a similar feed ban was put in place. The agency´s own International Review Team concluded that ". . . the partial ruminant to ruminant feed ban that is currently in place (in the U.S.) is insufficient to prevent exposure of cattle to the BSE agent." Scarier still, over the past 19 months, occasional samples of "vegetable matter only" cattle feed entering the U.S. from Canada have been found to contain animal protein matter. Slaps on the wrist by the FDA have been imposed on the processors, which have included Archer Daniels Midland and Louis Dreyfus.
  • The USDA should also be aware that there´s a gap in Canada´s feed ban that is caused by feeding ruminant protein to poultry and then feeding that poultry litter to cattle.
  • NCBA´s Jan Lyons contends that, "at least 82 percent of the cattle harvested in the U.S. are less than 30 months old and that CURRENT SCIENCE SAYS THAT BSE DEVELOPS ONLY IN CATTLE OLDER THAN 30 MONTHS." (Emphasis ours) Note to Jan Lyons: There have been more than 20 confirmed cases worldwide of BSE in cattle younger than 30 months of age.
  • Going against the best available science, the USDA in their Final Rule to reopen the border, permanently lifted the restriction on Canadian beef from cattle over 30 months of age, effectively allowing the most risky beef into the U.S. food supply. Yet, Canada is unwilling to let U.S. beef from cattle over 30 months of age into their food supply. This despite the fact that all cases of BSE found to date have been in cattle of Canadian origin. Do their scientists know something ours don´t?
  • The USDA says that it´s now okay to ship the meat from older animals because Canada is removing specified risk materials from animals older than 30 months of age. The scientists at the World Animal Health Organization say that Canada should be removing SRMs from animals older than six months of age and in the European Union SRM´s are removed from all cattle over 12 months of age.
  • The USDA assumed that blood was not at risk to BSE. So why did our government ban the importation of fetal blood serum from Canada?
  • Canada continues testing ONLY cattle that already display BSE disease symptoms. R-CALF concludes that, "they are taking no effective steps to use sound, established, scientific BSE testing procedures to prevent BSE cattle from entering the human food system by detecting BSE before the symptoms develop. This is disconcerting because experts agree that BSE can be detected in infected cattle at least three months before the animal exhibits outward signs of the disease. Every other country in the world with a BSE problem is actively testing normal cattle at slaughter," says R-CALF´s Bill Bullard.
  • Despite her often stated belief in scientific standards Jan Lyons evidently doesn´t think much of scientific tests. Regarding more BSE testing of cattle less than 30 months old she says, "Testing all cattle would be like testing children for Alzheimer´s disease. It is just not necessary." Clearly Canada has a problem that they don´t want to fully expose by testing more cattle. According to R-CALF, "Canada has conducted fewer than 32,000 BSE tests on its herd since January 2003 while the U.S. has tested about 200,000 cattle since June 2004 without detecting a single case of BSE in the native U.S. cattle herd." You´d think that the country with the problem would be testing a higher percentage of its national herd. Wouldn´t it be nice to find out just how widespread the BSE problem is in Canada before opening the border? But clearly Jan Lyons and the Canadian government think that would be overkill. (Please excuse the poor choice of words.)
  • Canadian legislators are rapidly moving towards passing a total ban on all bovine products in all animal feed. Doesn´t this imply that they are attempting to fix something that for years they said was not broken?
  • The NCBA´s Jan Lyons says that, "Consumers should remember BSE infectivity is not found in beef such as steaks, roasts and ground beef. It exists in nervous tissue systems such as the spinal cord and brain of older animals."

Hold your horses, Jan. Perhaps the scientists at NCBA headquarters might want to check out new research as documented in Journal Science which shows malformed proteins that cause brain-wasting diseases may be found in more tissues than previously thought.

"I don´t want to provoke hysteria here," said author of the report, Dr. Adriano Aguzzi, "but the bad news is that the prions are likely to distribute in the body more broadly than we would have thought possible."

Researchers from Zurich, the Institute of Neurology in London and Yale School of Medicine injected prions into mice suffering from one of five different conditions causing inflammation in the kidney, pancreas or liver. (Those organs, normally thought to be prion-free, were randomly selected.) They then looked to see if they could detect the misfolded proteins in those organs. They did, in all of the mice.

"Three organs, five different inflammatory conditions — this makes a very tight case," Aguzzi said. (A caveat: The prions used in the experiment were the type that cause scrapie, the brain-wasting disease that afflicts sheep. Scrapie is believed to have jumped the species barrier to cows — triggering BSE.)

A prion expert at the University of Toronto said if the findings are confirmed in cows then current regulations will have to be reconsidered. "If there´s a way for BSE prions to circumvent this barrier to actually propagate in muscle (meat), then we´re in trouble again," said Dr. Neil Cashman.

Dr. Aguzzi stated the obvious: "If sick cows are reliably not entering the human food chain, then there is no reason to worry because of our new findings."

Jan Lyons also stated that "Even if additional cases of BSE are discovered in the United States, scientists agree that BSE is not a public health risk."

Perhaps Jan, you should have said "that some scientists agree while other scientists do not agree." Like those scientists in Japan and Korea. As Leo McDonnell, President of R-CALF says, "What´s interesting is that our border is open to whole muscle cuts from Canada, but we can´t even export to Japan and Korea. (Not even whole muscle cuts.) USDA says their policies are based on sound science, but if the sound science is there, why aren´t we exporting?" Of course, the answer is that despite their pleadings to the contrary, the actions of Canada, Japan, USDA, and NCBA have NOT been based on science. "USDA has based the Final Rule on considerations of relations with the government of Canada and economic impacts of the import ban on ranchers and others in Canada, rather than on protecting the health and choices of U.S. consumers," says McDonnell. In other words, when the USDA and the NCBA say their actions are guided by science they are more than likely referring to political science.