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2005-07-01

First American-Born Mad Cow Discovered in Texas

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The U.S Department of Agriculture announced that the second case of mad cow disease was found in this country–but it marked the first time the cow was born and spent his entire life in the United States. We speak with John Stauber of PR Watch, author of "Mad Cow U.S.A.: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?" [includes rush transcript]

As the nation prepares for this weekend’s July 4th holiday and are firing up grills in anticipation of burgers and hot dog cook-outs–people may want to think twice about their meat. Last week, the U.S Department of Agriculture announced that the second case of mad cow disease was found in this country. The previous case of the disease in the U.S was found in a cow imported to Washington state from Canada.

But on Wednesday, the department confirmed that this cow was born and spent his entire life in the United States. So what does this mean for U.S consumers of meat?

  • John Stauber, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. He edits the publication PR Watch based in Madison, Wisconsin. He is author of several books, including "Mad Cow U.S.A.: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?"

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the line by John Stauber, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, author of "Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?" What about it, what about this cow, John Stauber?

JOHN STAUBER: Well, clearly the nightmare is happening here. And what’s going on in the United States is that the United States Department of Agriculture, the FDA, the meat and livestock industry are simply lying to the press and the American public when they say that we have in place the necessary measures to stop the spread of mad cow disease. The United States government is refusing to follow the lead of other countries, which have successfully dealt with mad cow disease, such as Japan and the EU nations. And I think a lot of listeners are really in the dark, too, because the mainstream media, so beholden to advertising money from the big food conglomerates and the beef industry, have really not informed the public about the risks of mad cow disease to human health and our blood supply.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, John, the amazing thing to me about this story was that supposedly this cow — the first inkling that the government had of mad cow in this cow was last November, and it was not confirmed until the end of June? Also, that the cow was, I think, a 12-year-old cow in Texas, which means it was born while George Bush was Governor of Texas, but your response to the long delay in time to ascertain whether this cow indeed did have mad cow disease?

JOHN STAUBER: I think we need a criminal investigation here of the way this animal was handled. Last November, mid-November, the US Department of Agriculture conducted what are called "rapid tests," looking for mad cow disease on this suspect animal. And indeed, in two of the rapid tests this animal showed positive for mad cow disease. And everyone who was paying close attention thought, 'Well, this is it. Here's mad cow disease in Texas.’

The US Department of Agriculture shipped samples; after incinerating the carcass, they shipped samples of the brain to their lab in Ames, Iowa. Now the manufacturer of these rapid tests said the odds of this cow having mad cow disease were probably around a quarter million to one, after showing positive on two rapid tests. But the USDA tested the cow at its laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and guess what? This was the one in a quarter million. They said, "This cow does not have mad cow disease."

Immediately, organizations like Consumer’s Union and their staff scientist, Dr. Michael Hanson, got on the US Department of Agriculture and said, "Well, what tests did you do? Did you do the internationally recognized gold-standard test, the Western Blot test?" And the US Department of Agriculture hemmed and hawed, but finally admitted they didn’t do the Western Blot test, which would have cleared up any confusion, and in March, actually sent Consumer’s Union a letter saying, "We’re not doing the Western Blot test, because it wouldn’t provide us any useful information."

Well, what finally happened was Dr. Hanson continued to raise this in scientific circles, and the Inspector General, the investigative arm inside the USDA actually went around the secretary, got the Western Blot test done a few weeks ago, and guess what? This cow, killed seven months ago, was positive for mad cow disease. We need a criminal investigation of what went on here.

AMY GOODMAN: You write in your book, Mad Cow, USA, John Stauber, about this popular Texas bumper sticker that reads, "The only mad cow in America is Oprah." Let’s not forget that she was sued by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. You write at the encouragement of the current Governor of Texas, Rick Perry — she took her show down to Texas while she went through this suit, though she ultimately won under Texas’s so-called crime of "beef disparagement," when she said she wouldn’t to eat a burger on her show.

JOHN STAUBER: Well, there’s a tremendous amount of irony with this first found home-grown mad cow being from Texas. You know, this is a horrific fatal dementia disease. 160 people are dead worldwide. We don’t know how many thousands of people might be incubating it. It sits invisible in people for decades. It’s contaminated the blood supply. So this is a very serious and mysterious ailment.

And on March 20, 1996, the British government finally, after a decade of denial, said, "Oh, we were wrong, the disease is spreading from cattle into people." There were ten young people dying. Well, the current Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who was the Agriculture Commissioner at the time, responded to the announcement that people were dying from mad cow disease by holding a publicity stunt, cooking up a barbeque for the press and ridiculing the idea that this could ever occur in the United States or was any real risk to human health. Today, Rick Perry, of course, is the Governor of Texas —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there

JOHN STAUBER: — having to eat his words.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, John Stauber, for joining us. PRWatch.org, the website.

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