After happening upon a case of mad cow disease at a California rendering plant during its testing of less than 0.5 percent of cows, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now searching for the infected animal’s offspring, where her mother ended up, and her mother’s other offspring, as all of them could potentially be infected, too. If an infected cow is slaughtered, the tainted meat could cause a degenerative brain disorder known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in anyone who ingests it. The disease, which is always fatal, causes sponge-like holes in the brain.
Also of concern in this case is the fact that milk from the infected cow may have been sold for human consumption. The USDA claims that vCJD cannot be contracted by consuming the milk of infected animals, but as a Mother Jones article points out, the sheep form of the disease, scrapie, has indeed been shown to pass from mother to offspring through milk.
The Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, posits that because the number of cows the USDA tests is so low—less than half of 1 percent of the nearly 34 million slaughtered annually—many cases could be and likely are going undetected. Jean Halloran, Consumers Union director of food policy initiatives, stated:
The fact we found one in 40,000 could actually be interpreted as worrisome. Does that mean if we tested 80,000 we’d find two? … Our testing program is so small it can’t give us even a ball-park idea of whether we have a problem here or not.
If the lack of adequate testing makes you think the USDA may be playing Russian roulette with our health, consider that we do the same thing every time we bite into a piece of meat that increases our risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. And then order a slew of free vegetarian/vegan starter kits for the people you love who still eat meat.