Mad Cow U.S.A.

Everyone remembers the recent scare in Britain over Mad Cow Disease. Now there's a book out, "Mad Cow U.S.A.: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?" which tells the history of the research into this disease and explores the real possibility that it may already be here.Mad Cow disease is one of a group of incurable and fatal spongiform encephalopathy (abbreviated SE) variants, including Alzheimers, which progressively destroy the brain, leaving it full of holes like a sponge and pocked with waxy deposits. We know that Alzheimers is on the increase, but you may not know that between 1 percent and 13 percent of Alzheimers patients also have a condition that closely resembles Mad Cow. A human variant of Mad Cow, scientific name bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE for short), may already be destroying the elderly in America.At first it was thought that Alzheimers and Mad Cow were caused by a slow virus, but the latest theory is that it's a prion (rhymes with neon), a tiny abnormal protein. So small that it will pass through filters that catch viruses and so indestructible that it can be boiled, autoclaved, and even incinerated, the abnormal prion is bent, a condition that causes a slow chain reaction in the brains of the afflicted until clumps of the protein begin to destroy the brain.No CureBecause the effect moves slowly, it may take up to 40 years for the disease to show any symptoms. There is no sure diagnosis until autopsy after death, and no cure. The panic in England came when teenagers suddenly began to die from this horrible disease. Loss of memory, balance, change of personality, eventually blindness, loss of speech, and death all occurred in months instead of years. "Mad Cow U.S.A." traces the history of the research.Like a detective story, the book tracks the early cases and the battle to suppress the results of the research. Why suppress this information so vital to your own health? Money. You'll see how that works in a minute.First some necessary definitions:* BSE, the bovine variety;* Scrapie, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy which decimated the British sheep population;* Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (CJD), a naturally occurring but rare human form of spongiform encephalopathy;* and finally new variant CJD which attacked the teenagers of Britain. Normally not thought to be contagious, CJD was a rare peculiarity until it suddenly turned up in a new variant among young people.Though scientists have produced all those polysyllable terms, the first hint of this monster among us came in the studies of Kuru, a spongiform encephalopathy discovered by Dr. Daniel Gajdusek among the cannibals of New Guinea. His research among the cannibals finally revealed the cause of Kuru. Though the tribe's men ate the preferred parts of the victims, the women and children had to be satisfied with eating the brains. If the victim had Kuru or had died of it, eating the brain was a short cut to rapid, fatal infection. When cannibalism was determined to be the cause, the natives were persuaded to give up the practice of eating the brains of the dead. Kuru stopped.High-Tech CannibalismBut what about us? We're not cannibals. Oh, but we are in ways you never suspected.Normally we think of cannibalism as people eating people. The term also applies to pigs eating pigs, etc. When we hear the word "cannibalism" we think of old cartoons about missionaries in African stew pots, but there is a new form, "high technology cannibalism." Instead of serving up some of your own species on a plate, high technology cannibalism refers to acquiring tissue from your own species by some other means.One such form of high tech cannibalism is organ transplants. The same species tissue isn't eaten; it's transplanted. Organ transplants are common now: kidneys, corneas, hearts, lungs, and bone marrow to name some. Besides the risk of rejecting the transplants, we also run the risk of acquiring diseases from them.Deadly Transmission The first case I learned about was reported by my eye doctor, Dr. Lepisto, in Hancock, Michigan. Bored with fitting eye glasses, he was eager to tell me about a cornea transplant he had performed. After the operation the woman complained that her eye hurt. Examination revealed that the cornea had come from a cancer victim. The metastasized cancer cells had been in the cornea, and the fatal cancer spread from her eye throughout her body.An organ transplant can also carry AIDS and other diseases. Beneficial as those forms of what Nobel laureate Dr. Daniel Gajdusek calls "high tech cannibalism" may be, they carry risks we never dreamed of.Dr. Gajdusek discovered that Kuru is similar to Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, a rare and incurable neurological affliction found in Europe. When people were treated with a growth hormone prepared from the pituitary glands of human corpses, there was a sudden increase in incidence of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. The virus had been lurking among the thousands of pituitary glands that were ground up for the growth hormone.Thanks to high tech cannibalism, as apparently occurred when the glands of corpses were combined for a human growth hormone, one sample can contaminate the finished preparation and infect thousands of people. In the case of other spongiform encephalopathy variants the disease can cross species barriers as the disease adapts.Gruesome Supplements These forms of spongiform encephalopathy are transmitted through rendered animal feeds. The $2 billion dollar U.S. rendering industry produces animal feeds and many other by-products by cooking up all kinds of waste flesh. A 1,000 lb. cow produces 400 pounds of offal. Add to that the guts and feathers of chickens, road kill, dead pets, and any imaginable corpse (except people. They're not being rendered down yet!), boil it up, turn the solids into pellets and you have animal food supplements.The trouble is, if one of those animals, which could have been a mink, a sheep, a hamster, mouse, or a cow, had Scrapie or some other form of spongiform encephalopathy, the fatal protein can be distributed to thousands of victims. Your cat can die of spongiform encephalopathy from its processed can food. You can die of it from eating hamburgers or pork. The authors of "Mad Cow U.S.A." contend that because cattle are fed the rendered remains of their own and other species, reprocessed as cattle feed, the American public is at risk of an outbreak of this Alzheimers-like fatal disease.Where's The Beef? It's enough to make you give up meat altogether. Fortunately the FDA has been persuaded to ban the practice of feeding cows the rendered remains of their own species.So why haven't you heard about it? Money. The meat industry doesn't want the public to panic and stop buying beef. The renderers don't want interference in their $2 billion a year business. And journalists and whistle blowers are afraid of being sued.Thanks to new laws on the books, it's an offense to disparage a food product and cause economic harm to the growers and distributors. They can sue! So if you read "Mad Cow U.S.A." and become a vegetarian, that's your decision.Personally, after learning that cattle are fed a mixture of sawdust and chicken manure, I was turned off by beef. Even if this recycled waste weren't infected with some form of spongiform encephalopathy that could destroy my brain, learning that cattle, pigs, and chickens are fed manure and the recycled remains of road kill animals, slaughterhouse offal, feathers, and dead pets was the last straw. We are not only drowning in our own filth, we are eating it, recycled as "high tech cannibalism."The author of Soylent Green in which people were recycled as green cookies didn't know the real risk: transmission of disease. We're not eating people yet, but according to the authors of "Mad Cow U.S.A.", prions can cross species barriers. nvCJD does, and it's a killer. Anybody got a recipe for carrot burgers?"Mad Cow U.S.A." Could the Nightmare Happen Here? by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber $24.95 is available from Common Courage Press.Harley Sachs Ph.D. is a writer with Northern Express in Traverse City, Michigan.

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