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For The Record  

FTR #295 Update on Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Mad-Cow Disease

Lis­ten:
MP3 One Seg­ment
RealAu­dio
NB: This RealAu­dio stream con­tains FTRs 294 and 295 in sequence. Each is a 30-minute broadcast.

1. Pre­sent­ing more infor­ma­tion about the out­breaks of foot-and-mouth and mad-cow dis­eases, this pro­gram begins with dis­cus­sion of con­tin­gency plans to han­dle foot-and-mouth should the dis­ease break out in the United States. These plans entail the coor­di­nated efforts of a num­ber of gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and could be viewed as a step that, in cer­tain respects, would move the coun­try closer to a form of lim­ited mar­tial law. “The first com­pre­hen­sive exer­cise about how the nation would con­tain foot-and-mouth dis­ease showed that an out­break could be stopped only with the com­bined strength of all fed­eral dis­as­ter agen­cies, includ­ing the mil­i­tary, Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment offi­cials have said. After decades of rely­ing largely on state and local gov­ern­ments to help con­tain ani­mal dis­eases, the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture asked the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to develop a plan to com­bat this one as force­fully as if it threat­ened human lives, said Clif­ford Oliver, the direc­tor of Agri­cul­ture Department’s office of cri­sis plan­ning. ‘We were com­ing to the real­iza­tion that state and local gov­ern­ment would be over­whelmed and the U.S.D.A. would be over­whelmed if foot-and-mouth broke out,’ Mr. Oliver said. With Britain, one of the most advanced agri­cul­tural nations, endur­ing an epi­demic of foot-and-mouth dis­ease and British troops belat­edly called in for mass buri­als of hun­dreds of thou­sands of slaugh­tered ani­mals, Amer­i­can farm­ers and ranch­ers began lob­by­ing their state agri­cul­ture chiefs for bet­ter plan­ning. Those offi­cials recently urged Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Ann M. Ven­e­man to find out what the rest of the gov­ern­ment could do to con­tain an out­break. The fed­eral Cat­a­strophic Dis­as­ter Response Group, which nor­mally wor­ries about bio-terrorism or indus­trial dis­as­ters, orga­nized the table-top exer­cise for the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment on Wednes­day, bring­ing together rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 26 agen­cies, includ­ing the Depart­ments of Defense, Com­merce, Inte­rior, Energy and Health and Human Ser­vices, Mr. Oliver said. The exer­cise con­firmed fears that with­out the entire gov­ern­ment work­ing to con­tain it, the dis­ease would spread like wild­fire if it ever reached this coun­try.” (“Cat­tle Dis­ease Poses Threat to Run Wild, U.S. Finds” by Eliz­a­beth Becker; New York Times; 4/17/2001; p. A15.)

2. Inter­est­ingly (and per­haps sig­nif­i­cantly), an inter­na­tional com­mis­sion study­ing inter­na­tional reg­u­la­tion of bio­log­i­cal war­fare devel­op­ment noted that strength­en­ing an exist­ing treaty would facil­i­tate world-wide mon­i­tor­ing of foot-and-mouth dis­ease. “Slow-moving talks on an effec­tive anti-cheating regime for an inter­na­tional treaty ban­ning germ weapons were given a fresh push yes­ter­day when the chair­man pre­sented his own com­pro­mise draft as a basis for nego­ti­a­tion. Speak­ing on the first day of a three-week nego­ti­at­ing ses­sion, Tibor Toth of Hun­gary said he was opti­mistic that a ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­to­col for the 1972 bio­log­i­cal weapons treaty could be con­cluded by Novem­ber when states that are party to the treaty hold their fifth review con­fer­ence in Geneva. How­ever the six-year old nego­ti­a­tions remain stalled on key aspects of the polic­ing regime, notably con­cern­ing the scope and intru­sive­ness of on-site inspec­tions and issues relat­ing to export con­trols and tech­nol­ogy trans­fer . . . . He [Toth] appealed to the 50 or so coun­tries tak­ing part in the talks to make con­ces­sions to con­clude a pro­to­col this year. He said a ver­i­fi­ca­tion regime would help to head off attempts by rogue states to pro­duce or acquire bio­log­i­cal weapons capa­ble of mass destruc­tion of human, ani­mal and plant life. More­over, by strength­en­ing inter­na­tional co-operation on dis­ease sur­veil­lance it would also con­tribute to reduc­ing deaths and ill­ness from infec­tious dis­eases, whether nat­ural or man-made. Foot-and-mouth dis­ease is among those poten­tially cov­ered by the pro­to­col, Mr. Toth noted.” (“Draft Gives Fresh Push to Germ War­fare Pact” by Frances Williams; Finan­cial Times; 4/24/2001; p. 4.)

3. A recent op-ed col­umn raised the very ques­tion at the heart of the dis­cus­sion set forth in FTR-287, namely, IS the out­break of foot-and-mouth the result of bio­log­i­cal war­fare? The writer also raised another aspect of the line of inquiry pre­sented in that program—the pos­si­bil­ity that Iraq may have been involved in the delib­er­ate spread of the dis­ease. “Could the United States be at war and not know it? The cur­rent out­break of foot-and-mouth dis­ease in the United King­dom makes one won­der. Not about Britain’s plight specif­i­cally; there’s noth­ing to sug­gest that the epi­demic there is an act of war. But con­sider how quickly and eas­ily it has spread. Then con­sider a regime such as Iraq’s, which has demon­strated a com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing bio­log­i­cal weapons. Might such a nation find it advan­ta­geous to strike anony­mously and bio­log­i­cally by spread­ing an eco­nom­i­cally dev­as­tat­ing dis­ease or a slow-acting toxin? This is not an abstract ques­tion. The Iraqi regime insists that the eco­nomic sanc­tions imposed on it are noth­ing less than a geno­ci­dal attack by the United States and the United King­dom. The regime has said it is still fight­ing the Per­sian Gulf War, and that it will respond to the plight of the Pales­tini­ans . . . . Among the agents known to have been loaded into war­heads are afla­toxin, a fun­gal toxin that can cause liver can­cer, and wheat-cover smut, which destroys grain crops . . . . And if a slow-developing dis­ease can’t be linked to the event that trig­gered it, how can a coun­try pre­vent such attacks? How can it respond? Sci­ence might be able to address part of this prob­lem. Sub­tle dif­fer­ences in vari­eties of bio­log­i­cal agents can be ana­lyzed and traced to cer­tain regions. Other effects might have sig­na­tures that can be observed in vic­tims.” (“If an Enemy Attacks, Will We Know It?” by Charles Duelfer; San Jose Mer­cury News; 4/24/2001; p. 7B.)

4. As noted in FTR-287, a recent U.N. study about the renascent Iraqi devel­op­ment pro­grams for weapons of mass destruc­tion warned of that country’s devel­op­ment of foot-and-mouth virus. (“Mis­siles, Viruses Still Trou­ble Experts” by the inter­na­tional staff. Finan­cial Times; 3/2/2001; p. 5.)

5. “Iraq’s research into viruses—including polio, influenza, foot-and-mouth dis­ease, the camelpox virus, infec­tious hem­or­rhagic con­ju­unc­tivi­tis virus and rotavirus—was also wor­ry­ing.” (Idem.)

6. Inter­est­ingly, and per­haps sig­nif­i­cantly, the U.S. and Britain launched air strikes against Iraq shortly after George W. Bush became pres­i­dent. The pos­si­bil­ity that the foot-and-mouth out­break might stem from Iraqi bio­log­i­cal war­fare retal­i­a­tion for Britain’s role in the strikes is not one that should be too read­ily cast aside. It is also inter­est­ing to note that, as the Charles Duelfer col­umn excerpted noted above points out, genetic sig­na­tures of a given contagion-causing organ­ism might yield clues as to the pos­si­ble ori­gin of the dis­ease. “The strain of foot-and-mouth virus plagu­ing Britain’s farms was first detected in India more than a decade ago. Sci­en­tists have been track­ing it across the world since then, but are no closer to deter­min­ing how it got to Eng­land. . . . Experts have iden­ti­fied the virus caus­ing the cur­rent out­break in Europe as belong­ing to the Pan-Asia type zero strain. The sub­type rav­aging Britain is nor­mally found in the Mid­dle East and South Asia.” (“Foot-and-Mouth Trots Around Globe” by Emma Ross; San Jose Mer­cury News; 3/30/2001; p. 5A.) [Mr. Emory notes, in ret­ro­spect, that this out­break is also inter­est­ing in light of Pak­istani sup­port for the Tal­iban and the long-standing con­flict between that coun­try and India.]

7. In the con­text of Saddam’s hos­til­ity to Britain, sev­eral addi­tional facts should be taken into account. One is that Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein was raised by, and heav­ily influ­enced by his pro-Nazi, anti-British uncle. “At ten, he found a men­tor in his mater­nal uncle, Khairal­lah al-Tulfah, a recently cashiered army offi­cer whose hatred of British colo­nial rule was matched only by his admi­ra­tion for Adolf Hitler and his Nazi ideals. . . . He learned to read by the light of an oil lamp and fed his spirit on his uncle’s tales of exploits with pro-German offi­cers in the Iraqi army. Khairal­lah al-Tulfah had a dream that Arabs would one day be free of for­eign occu­pa­tion and for­eign rule. The Ger­mans, Khairal­lah said, were the only ones who respected the Arabs as equals. The British were just after their oil.” (The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq; by Ken­neth Tim­mer­man; copy­right 1991 [HC]; by Houghton Mif­flin Com­pany; ISBN 0–395-59305–0; p.1.)

8. Khairal­lah was also deeply involved with the devel­op­ment of the Iraqi bio­log­i­cal weapons pro­gram, which was known as the “Gen­eral Direc­torate of Vet­eri­nary Ser­vices!” “Sad­dam Hus­sein was attracted early on to bac­te­ri­o­log­i­cal weapons. They were cheap, rel­a­tively sim­ple to man­u­fac­ture, and poten­tially deadly. . . . On Novem­ber 2, 1974, [Izzat] al-Douri signed a con­tract with the Paris-based Insti­tut Merieux, to set up Iraq’s first bac­te­ri­o­log­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory. The Iraqis explained that they needed to be able to man­u­fac­ture large quan­ti­tites of vac­cines in order to develop agri­cul­tural and ani­mal pro­duc­tion. The offi­cial Iraqi pur­chas­ing agency was called the Gen­eral Direc­torate of Vet­eri­nary Ser­vices.” (Ibid.; p. 20.)

9. “Al Douri’s suc­cess won him a pro­mo­tion and made him a de facto mem­ber of the team, the three-man Strate­gic Plan­ning Com­mit­tee, along with Sad­dam, Khairal­lah, and Adnan Ham­dani.” (Ibid.; pp. 20–21.)

10. One inter­est­ing detail con­cern­ing the out­break of foot-and-mouth dis­ease in Britain con­cerns reports of human infec­tions with the dis­ease. “Gov­ern­ment hopes of per­suad­ing tourists back to the coun­try­side suf­fered a seri­ous set­back yes­ter­day when a slaugh­ter­man in north-west Eng­land was sus­pected of catch­ing foot-and-mouth dis­ease. The Depart­ment of Health said a man involved in the mass cull in Cum­bria was suf­fer­ing blis­ter­ing which indi­cated he had become infected with the dis­ease, although final results from med­ical tests would not be avail­able for a day or two. The news came as the gov­ern­ment faced grow­ing con­cern about the health risks of burn­ing car­casses on mass funeral pyres and seemed cer­tain to under­mine last week’s claim that the epi­demic was now ‘fully under con­trol.’ The gov­ern­ment has always main­tained the risk to humans from foot-and-mouth is min­i­mal and, with many tourist busi­nesses on the brink of col­lapse, has urged peo­ple to return to rural areas . . . . Peter Ainsworth, cul­ture spokesman for the oppo­si­tion con­ser­v­a­tive party, said that if the case was con­firmed it would be a ‘mas­sive set­back to the recov­ery of British tourism’ as some Amer­i­cans and other vis­i­tors who mis­tak­enly believe foot-and-mouth is a seri­ous risk to human health would decide to stay away. ‘It’s a fur­ther mas­sive dent to the image of British tourism at a time when we can ill afford it.’ Mr. Ainsworth said . . . . ‘This is incred­i­bly rare.’ Said a Depart­ment of Health spokesman.’ ‘The symp­toms are rel­a­tively mild and it should respond well to treat­ment and clear up quickly.’” (“Sus­pectd Human Foot-and-Mouth Case Hits Gov­ern­ment Cam­paign” by Michael Mann and Cathy New­man; Finan­cial Times; 4/24/2001; p. 9.)

11. More sus­pected human infec­tions were reported by the Finan­cial Times the fol­low­ing day. “Two more sus­pected cases of foot-and-mouth dis­ease being trans­mit­ted to humans were being inves­ti­gated by the Depart­ment of Health yes­ter­day as the government’s han­dling of the cri­sis was strongly crit­i­cized by lead­ing inde­pen­dent sci­en­tists. Results from the first sus­pected case, involv­ing a slaugh­ter­man in Cum­bria, North-West Eng­land, are due shortly. Offi­cials said the cir­cum­stances in which he may have caught the infec­tion were highly unusual and proved there was no cause for con­cern. The man was mov­ing a decom­pos­ing car­cass when it exploded.” (“Live­stock Dis­ease Sus­pected in More Humans” by John Mason Cathy New­man and Michael Mann; Finan­cial Times; 4/25/2001; p. 9.) One of the pos­si­bil­i­ties to be inves­ti­gated is that the strain of foot-and-mouth may have been genet­i­cally altered to affect humans.

12. The remain­der of the broad­cast deals with mad-cow dis­ease and its human vari­ant Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease. Mad cow dis­ease is believed to result from ner­vous sys­tem tis­sue from scrapie-infected sheep being fed to cows. Scrapie, in turn has also been stud­ied by ele­ments asso­ci­ated with the cre­ation of bio­log­i­cal weapons, includ­ing the National Can­cer Insti­tute.

13. “Alter­na­tively, ‘slow’ viruses were of the great­est inter­est to WHO, CDC, NIH, and NCI sci­en­tists between 1968 and 1974. The rea­sons for this were not as obvi­ous. The WHO Chron­i­cle reported: ‘Recent inter­est in the slow viruses, in par­tic­u­lar those caus­ing chronic degen­er­a­tive dis­ease of the ner­vous system—the CHINA (chronic infec­tious neu­ro­pathic agents) viruses—has come from painstak­ing work with visna and scrapie, degen­er­a­tive dis­eases of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem of sheep. . . . CHINA viruses are dis­tin­guished by the lan­guish­ing char­ac­ter of the infec­tion process they ini­ti­ate. The incu­ba­tion period in the host may be months or years, and the dis­ease itself may progress lag­gardly towards an irre­versible dete­ri­o­ra­tion of the vic­tim. . . . The resis­tance of the scrapie agent to heat, ether, for­ma­lin, and other enzy­matic and chem­i­cal agents, as well as its very small par­ti­cle size, poses the ques­tion whether it is a con­ven­tional virus, an incom­plete virus, or some other agent. . . . the find­ings of dif­fer­ent [research] groups are at vari­ance and in sev­eral instances are totally inex­plic­a­ble within our present con­cept of infec­tious agents.’” (Emerg­ing Viruses: AIDS and Ebola—Nature, Acci­dent or Inten­tional?; by Dr. Leonard G. Horowitz; Copy­right 1996 [HC] by Tetra­he­dron Inc.; ISBN 0–923550-12–7; pp. 16–17.)

14. In deter­min­ing whether mad cow could be the result of bio­log­i­cal war­fare, it is inter­est­ing to note that genetic dif­fer­ences may account for the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the dis­ease in Britain. This sug­gests at least the pos­si­bil­ity of genetic engi­neer­ing in con­nec­tion with the dis­ease. “Sci­en­tists have con­firmed that cases of the human form of mad cow dis­ease in the North are run­ning at dou­ble the rate in the South. . . . The researchers found it was twice as com­mon in the North of Eng­land and Scot­land, but were at a loss to explain the dif­fer­ence after find­ing no clear link with regional dif­fer­ences in eat­ing habits. . . .’We also need to keep an open mind about other fac­tors unre­lated to diet. . . . these could include the genetic back­ground of vic­tims. All those who devel­oped the dis­ease had a spe­cific genetic make-up and it could be that peo­ple in the North are more genet­i­cally sus­cep­ti­ble than in other places.’” (“Puz­zled Sci­en­tists Try to Explain Regional Vari­a­tion in Fig­ures” by Mike Waites; York­shire Post; 3/30/2001.)

15. The broad­cast con­cludes with exam­i­na­tion of a hypo­thet­i­cal expla­na­tion for the out­break of mad-cow dis­ease. Inves­ti­ga­tors in New Zealand blame the out­break in Britain on an African ante­lope imported into a game park in the mid-1970’s. “An African ante­lope imported for a British game park may have trig­gered the ‘mad-cow’ dis­ease that has dev­as­tated beef herds in Britain, New Zealand researchers believe. Sci­en­tists from Massey Uni­ver­sity led by epi­demi­ol­o­gist Roger Mor­ris, are prepar­ing to pub­lish sci­en­tific work under­pin­ning the the­ory, Pro­fes­sor Mor­ris said. The team inves­ti­gated 35 the­o­ries of the cause of the epi­demic. If true, the ante­lope the­ory would sup­plant a widely held belief that bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy, or BSE, orig­i­nated in sheep infected with a sim­i­lar dis­ease, scrapie, which were ground up for ani­mal feed. Sci­en­tific papers to be pub­lished later this year by Mr. Mor­ris and the team will can­vass the like­li­hood that a form of BSE occurs in wild ante­lope, and spread into British cat­tle when an infected ani­mal from a wildlife park was ren­dered into meat and bone meal.” (“’Mad-Cow’ Dis­ease Linked to Ante­lope Researchers Say” [AP]; Wall Street Jour­nal; 4/23/2001; p. B4A.) Mr. Emory notes that AIDS has come to be blamed (falsely) on infes­ta­tion from Africa. In light of the research into scrapie con­ducted by insti­tu­tions con­nected to bio­log­i­cal war­fare devel­op­ment, one won­ders if a sim­i­lar scape­goat­ing of the “dark con­ti­nent” for the gen­e­sis of mad-cow might be under way.

Discussion

9 comments for “FTR #295 Update on Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Mad-Cow Disease”

  1. The dis­cov­ery of the first case in mad cow in the US since 2006 is prompt­ing the expected round of assur­ances to beef/dairy con­sumers that this was an anom­alous event and there’s really noth­ing to be wor­ried about. After all, this is the first case found in 6 years. What isn’t men­tioned quite as often is that the cow was exhibit­ing no symp­toms and was found through a ran­dom screen­ing. But then, the FDA and indus­try argues, the fact that it was found through a ran­dom screen is a sign of the effec­tive­ness of safety pro­ce­dures. After all, there hasn’t been a case since 2006. What’s men­tioned even less is that only 40,000 cows are ran­domly screened for mad cow each year. This is in a coun­try with ~35 mil­lion cat­tle slaugh­tered annu­ally. So what we’ve learned is that ~0.1% of the cat­tle are screen for a deadly, but pre­sum­ably very rare, dis­ease that both the cat­tle and humans can har­bor asymp­to­mati­cally for decades. And when symp­toms do arise, they might be mis­taken for Alzheimers. The arti­cle below also indi­cates that experst don’t know what the actual preva­lence of spon­ta­neous mad­cow dis­ease is in cat­tle, shich would be a use­ful bit of info for deter­min­ing an ade­quate screen­ing regime.So let’s hope a 0.1% screen­ing rate is enough and that’s why this was the first case seen since 2006 because the other pos­si­bil­i­ties are rather, ummm, unap­pe­tiz­ing:

    Dis­cov­ery of mad cow at US ren­der­ing plant was due to luck and ran­dom USDA test­ing
    Dis­cov­ery of mad cow in US was stroke of luck

    By TRACIE CONE and GOSIA WOZNIACKA | Asso­ci­ated Press | Apr 25, 2012 4:20 AM CDT
    A non­de­script build­ing in the heart of California’s dairy coun­try has become the focus of intense scrutiny after mad cow dis­ease was dis­cov­ered in a dead dairy cow.

    The find­ing, announced Tues­day, is the first new case of the dis­ease in the U.S. since 2006 _ and the fact that the dis­cov­ery was made at all was a stroke of luck. Tests are per­formed on only a small por­tion of dead ani­mals brought to the trans­fer facil­ity near Han­ford in cen­tral California.

    The cow had died at one of the region’s hun­dreds of dairies, but hadn’t exhib­ited out­ward symp­toms of the dis­ease: unsteadi­ness, inco­or­di­na­tion, a dras­tic change in behav­ior or low milk pro­duc­tion, offi­cials said. But when the ani­mal arrived at the facil­ity with a truck­load of other dead cows on April 18, its 30-month-plus age and fresh corpse made her eli­gi­ble for USDA testing.

    “We ran­domly pick a num­ber of sam­ples through­out the year, and this just hap­pened to be one that we ran­domly sam­pled,” Baker Com­modi­ties exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Den­nis Luckey said. “It showed no signs” of disease.

    The sam­ples went to the food safety lab at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis on April 18. By April 19, mark­ers indi­cated the cow could have bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy (BSE), a dis­ease that is fatal to cows and can cause a deadly human brain dis­ease in peo­ple who eat tainted meat. It was sent to the USDA lab in Iowa for fur­ther testing.

    ...

    In humans, experts say the dis­ease can occur in one in 1 mil­lion peo­ple, caus­ing sponge-like holes in the brain. But they say not enough is known about how and how often the dis­ease strikes cat­tle.

    ...

    Among the unknowns about the cur­rent case is whether the ani­mal died of the dis­ease and whether other cat­tle in its herd are sim­i­larly infected. The name of the dairy where the cow died hasn’t been released, and offi­cials haven’t said where the cow was born.

    “It’s appro­pri­ate to be cau­tious, it’s appro­pri­ate to pay atten­tion and it’s appro­pri­ate to ask ques­tions, but now let’s watch and see what the researchers find out in the next cou­ple of days,” said James Culler, direc­tor of the UC Davis dairy food safety lab­o­ra­tory and an author­ity on BSE.

    Culler said that in this case the food safety test­ing pro­gram worked and that this form of BSE so rarely occurs that con­sumers shouldn’t be alarmed.

    “Are you wor­ried about all of the mete­ors that passed the earth last night while you were sleep­ing? Of course not,” Culler said. “Would you pay 90 per­cent of your salaries to set up all of the obser­va­to­ries on earth to watch for them? Of course not. It’s the same thing.”

    The National Cattlemen’s Beef Asso­ci­a­tion said in a state­ment that “U.S. reg­u­la­tory con­trols are effec­tive, and that U.S fresh beef and beef prod­ucts from cat­tle of all ages are safe and can be safely traded due to our inter­lock­ing safeguards.”

    The infected cow was iden­ti­fied through an Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment sur­veil­lance pro­gram that tests about 40,000 cows a year for the fatal brain disease.

    There have been three con­firmed cases of BSE in cows in the United States _ in a Canadian-born cow in 2003 in Wash­ing­ton state, in 2005 in Texas and in 2006 in Alabama.

    Both the 2005 and 2006 cases were also atyp­i­cal vari­eties of the dis­ease, USDA offi­cials said.

    The mad cow cases that plagued Eng­land in the early 1990s were caused when live­stock rou­tinely were fed pro­tein sup­ple­ments that included ground cow spinal columns and brain tis­sue, which can har­bor the disease.

    ...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 26, 2012, 2:52 pm
  2. The USDA has an update on the recent case of mad cow in Cal­i­for­nia. Now it sounds like the cow was lame and unable to walk, con­tra­dict­ing ear­lier reports that the cow was asymp­to­matic. It also sounds like to cow was a 10 year old dairy cow. Or maybe 5 years old. There’s appar­ently still some con­fu­sion:

    USDA: U.S. mad cow was lame, lying down at dairy
    April 27, 2012

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The mad cow that was recently dis­cov­ered through rou­tine test­ing in Cal­i­for­nia had been euth­a­nized after it became lame and started lying down at a dairy, fed­eral offi­cials revealed Thursday.

    The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture also said the cow was 10 years and seven months old in its update on the fourth case of mad cow dis­ease ever dis­cov­ered in the U.S.

    A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes of Cal­i­for­nia had said Wednes­day that the sick cow was 5 years old. It came from a dairy farm in Tulare County, America’s No. 1 dairy-producing county.

    The USDA didn’t elab­o­rate on the cow’s symp­toms other than to say it was “humanely euth­a­nized after it devel­oped lame­ness and became recumbent.”

    Rou­tine test­ing at a trans­fer facil­ity showed the dead Hol­stein, which was des­tined for a ren­der­ing plant, had mad cow dis­ease, or bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy. The results were announced Tuesday.

    Ani­mals at high risk for the dis­ease include those with symp­toms of neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease, “downer” ani­mals at slaugh­ter­houses, ani­mals that die at dairies or cat­tle ranches for unknown rea­sons, and cows more than 2 1/2 years old, because BSE occurs in older cows.

    U.S. health offi­cials say there is no risk to the food sup­ply. The Cal­i­for­nia cow was never des­tined for the meat mar­ket, and it devel­oped “atyp­i­cal” BSE from a ran­dom muta­tion, some­thing that sci­en­tists know hap­pens occa­sion­ally. Some­how, a pro­tein the body nor­mally har­bors folds into an abnor­mal shape called a prion, set­ting off a chain reac­tion of mis­folds that even­tu­ally kills brain cells.

    ...

    So cows older then 2 1/2 years are con­sid­ered at risk for devel­op­ing mad cow, and the mad cow in ques­tion is either 5 or 10 years old. That’s a lit­tle unset­tling since it raises the pos­si­bil­ity that the cow had been infected for num­ber of years before the symp­toms started show­ing up. Well, at least we’re being assured that there was no human health risk since it was a dairy cow that’s not meant to enter the meat sup­ply. It sure is a good thing that mad cow can’t be spread in milk:

    Prion Dis­ease Spreads in Sheep Via Mother’s Milk

    Sci­enceDaily (Jan. 19, 2011) — Trans­mis­sion of prion brain dis­eases such as bovine spongi­form ene­cephalopa­thy (BSE) — also known as mad cow dis­ease — and human vari­ant Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease (vCJD) is gen­er­ally attrib­uted to the con­sump­tion of the brain or organ meat of infected ani­mals but new research demon­strates lambs exposed to milk from prion-infected sheep with inflamed mam­mary glands can develop prion dis­ease as well. The research, which is pub­lished in the Jan­u­ary 2011 issue of the Jour­nal of Virol­ogy, has major impli­ca­tions for human and live­stock health.

    ...

    Recent research had sug­gested that human-to-human trans­mis­sion of pri­ons has occurred via blood trans­fu­sions, “under­scor­ing the impor­tance of under­stand­ing pos­si­ble trans­mis­sion routes,” the researchers write. The mis­folded pri­ons that cause vCJD in humans, and BSE in cat­tle — which can be trans­mit­ted to humans — com­monly accu­mu­late in lym­phoid tis­sues before invad­ing the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, where they wreak their deadly effects. Inflam­ma­tion can cause lym­phoid fol­li­cles to form in other organs, such as liver and kid­ney, which leads pri­ons to invade organs that nor­mally do not har­bor infec­tion. In recent research, this team, led by Ciri­aco Ligios of the Isti­tuto Zoopro­fi­lat­tico Sper­i­men­tale in Sar­dinia, Italy and Adri­ano Agguzi at the Uni­ver­sity of Zurich, Switzer­land, reported sheep with mis­folded pri­ons in inflamed mam­mary glands, also known as mas­ti­tis, rais­ing con­cerns that pri­ons could be secreted into milk.

    In the new research, the team infected sheep with a com­mon retro­virus that causes mas­ti­tis, and mis­folded pri­ons. They bred the sheep, in order to stim­u­late the females to pro­duce milk, which they then col­lected and fed to lambs that had never been exposed to pri­ons. The lambs devel­oped prion dis­ease after only two years, a speed which sur­prised the researchers, and “sug­gested that there was a high level of prion infec­tiv­ity in milk,” says Sigurdson.

    The research raises sev­eral dis­turb­ing possibilities.

    A com­mon virus in a sheep with prion dis­ease can lead to prion con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of the milk pool and may lead to prion infec­tion of other ani­mals.
    The same virus in a prion-infected sheep could effi­ciently prop­a­gate prion infec­tion within a flock, through trans­mis­sion of pri­ons to the lambs, via milk. This might be par­tic­u­larly likely on fac­tory farms, where mas­ti­tis may be com­mon, and could occur in goats as well as sheep.
    Humans with vari­ant Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease (vCJD) might accu­mu­late pri­ons in inflamed organs, and could also secrete prions.

    How­ever, “This work can­not be directly extrap­o­lated to cat­tle,” says Sig­urd­son. She says that BSE pri­ons do not accu­mu­late to detectible lev­els in lym­phoid organs, and thus would not be expected to accu­mu­late with inflam­ma­tion. “Nonethe­less,” she says, “it would be worth test­ing milk from cat­tle with mas­ti­tis for pri­ons as there may be other cel­lu­lar sources for pri­ons entry into milk.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 26, 2012, 10:46 pm
  3. @Pterrafractyl: Unfor­tu­nate stuff.

    Sad thing is, we could have cured these dis­eases already if the med­ical estab­lish­ment wasn’t so full of incom­pe­tent bums and money-grubbing crooks.

    Posted by Steve L. | April 27, 2012, 3:30 am
  4. @Steven L.: “Scary” barely begins to describe the poten­tional for the kinds of prion-related calami­ties the US is flirt­ing with in order to save a few cents on the cost of beef. It could be like Zom­bieland in slow motion. The pos­si­bil­ity of infec­tious pri­ons spread­ing in via dairy prod­ucts is par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing since a cow could be spread­ing that stuff asymp­to­mati­cally for years. I can’t fault the entire med­ical estab­lish­ment for our mad cow poli­cies, espe­cially when it comes to reg­u­la­tory poli­cies. There are surely some bad actors in the research com­mu­nity but the doc­tors and sci­en­tists aren’t really the ones with the final say on these kinds mat­ters. The nature of the risk is one of low-probabilities and low-precedent. Low probal­ity, low prece­dent prob­lems are, by their very nature, really tough calls espe­cially when there are poten­tially dis­as­ter­ous con­se­quences. And that’s before all the amoral out­side inter­ests get involved. A sober sci­en­tific appraisal of the risks at hand just won’t hap­pen when it’s industry-approved polit­i­cal appointees mak­ing the final call using industry-derived vol­un­tar­ily sub­mit­ted data. And this is not to say that there’s com­pelling evi­dence of some sort of exist­ing mad cow epe­demic. The prob­lem is that what lit­tle data the pub­lic has about the mad cow screen­ing pol­icy sug­gests that the screen­ing regime itself can’t gather the data required to catch an emerg­ing prion prob­lem in the food sup­ply if that low prob­a­bil­ity event should takes place. It’s like the pre­vi­ous test­ing into the risk of mad cow con­cluded “there isn’t much of it, so we don’t have to worry about it”. That’s like sam­pling peo­ple for the flu in the mid­dle of July and assum­ing it will be like that all year around. Infec­tious agents don’t behave like this. If a prion dis­ease spon­ta­neously pops up in one in a mil­lion humans and at a sim­i­lar rate in cat­tle (that’s what the data sug­gests), how in the hell can we know if test­ing 40,000 cat­tle of in the 30–40 mil­lion raised each year is really capa­ble of catch­ing an out­break in time. Espe­cially when you’re tar­get­ing only lame/older cat­tle and sys­tem­at­i­cally can’t catch an out­break that isn’t in old or lame cat­tle. For an infec­tious dis­ease that can be asymp­to­matic for years that’s a seri­ous prob­lem. Espe­cially when we don’t really under­stand all the dif­fer­ent ways it spreads.

    And increas­ingly tech­nol­ogy is going to shift these kinds of low prob­a­bil­ity risks in highly unpre­dictable ways. Events like BP’s Gulf spill and the Fukushima melt­down were both low prob­a­bil­ity events and the lack of prepa­ra­tion in both cases was jus­ti­fied, in part, by the extremely low prob­a­bil­i­ties assigned to the sequence of events that led to the cat­a­stro­phes. They both hap­pened and changed the world irre­versibly. Those prob­a­bil­i­ties of a depp ocean well blow out or mul­ti­ple full nuclear melt­downs were prob­a­bly rigged opti­misti­cally set by their indus­tries as improb­a­bly low. I’d be pretty shocked if the same wasn’t true for the beef and dairy indus­try. As more and more tech­nol­ogy gets imple­mented in ways that “might” lead to cat­a­stro­phe, it looks like more and more irre­versible cat­a­stro­phes are going to take place because human­ity just can­not seem to resist engag­ing in stu­pid opti­mism when­ever it’s prof­itable. Plus, these are really hard sce­nar­ios to preduct accu­rately. It’s another sys­temic meta-problem we have yet to address. In an age of cloned, genet­i­cally mod­i­fied cows what if the cow clones of the future have an unde­tected higher sus­pectibil­ity to spon­ta­neous prion dis­ease? Do we have enough info to know if that’s hap­pen­ing? Can the cur­rent test­ing regime pick up the kind of dub­tle shifts in genetic pre­dis­po­si­tion of an upcom­ing gen­er­a­tion of cat­tle when the test­ing rate is at 0.1% and tar­get­ted at old and lame cat­tle. Who knows because it looks like the one screen­ing in 2004 of 759,000 cat­tle to estab­lish a base­line “preva­lence” of the dis­ease spo­na­neously appear­ing is the one and only esti­mate the USDA will allow to hap­pen. Because after that, they dras­ti­cally cut back on test­ing with only more cuts to fol­low. The US basi­cally took one big sam­ple in 2004 and that’s it. So if that 2004 sam­pling led to a sig­nif­i­cant under­sti­ma­tion of the nat­ural preva­lence of mad cow OR the under­ly­ing con­di­tions change in the future (e.g. dif­fer­ent strains of mad cow emerg­ing, busi­ness prac­tices gone awry, bioter­ror, etc) a MAJOR assump­tion in what con­sti­tutes a “safe” test­ing regime might be skewed in ways that set the screen­ing sys­tem up to fail. Bad stats really can kill.

    Like with Fukushima and the BP spill we’re squarely in low probability/high impact ter­ri­tory with mad cow and that doesn’t bode well given humanity’s track record. For instance, check out this arti­cle from 2007. It’s about some researchers that devel­oped a mad cow-free cow by remov­ing a gene involved with the pro­duc­tion of pri­ons. Appar­ently cows don’t need them to live (pri­ons are nat­u­rally pro­duced by the body but appar­ently not nec­es­sary to live). It’s an inter­est­ing arti­cle that shows the poten­tial for devel­op­ing a cure for prion dis­eases, but it also raises a cou­ple of ques­tions. First, there’s an esti­mate in the arti­cle that if all 42 mil­lion cat­tle in the US were tested for mad cow, maybe 4–7 cases would be found at most. That was what the experts were say­ing. So 0.00001% of the cows in the US were assumed to be infected as of 2007. I’d like to see the mar­gin of error on that stat. Con­sid­er­ing that three cases of mad cow had been detected in the US (start­ing in 2003) from what sounds like maybe a cou­ple mil­lion tested at most (at a rate of 0.1% after the ini­tial 1% screen), it sort of begs the ques­tion of just how reli­able that esti­mate is that there were only 4–7 infected cows in the entire US at most? Is that sup­posed to be a con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mate? What would a rea­son­ably opti­mistic esti­mate have been, one infected cow in the whole US at the most? Was there a super thor­ough test­ing regime that took place to get a decent base­line esti­mate and how use­ful is that esti­mate as a future pre­dic­tor? (the arti­cles below indi­cate “no”) Are we really risk­ing load­ing up the pop­u­la­tion with low but still unac­cept­able lev­els of pri­ons year after year based on these kinds of assump­tions? Yes:

    Sci­en­tists Announce Mad Cow Breakthrough

    By Rick Weiss
    Wash­ing­ton Post Staff Writer
    Mon­day, Jan­u­ary 1, 2007

    Sci­en­tists said yes­ter­day that they have used genetic engi­neer­ing tech­niques to pro­duce the first cat­tle that may be bio­log­i­cally inca­pable of get­ting mad cow disease.

    The ani­mals, which lack a gene that is cru­cial to the disease’s pro­gres­sion, were not designed for use as food. They were cre­ated so that human phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals can be made in their blood with­out the dan­ger that those prod­ucts might get con­t­a­m­i­nated with the infec­tious agent that causes mad cow.

    That agent, a pro­tein known as a prion (pro­nounced PREE-on), can cause a fatal human ail­ment, vari­ant Creutzfeldt-Jakob dis­ease, if it gets into the body.

    More gen­er­ally, sci­en­tists said, the ani­mals will facil­i­tate stud­ies of pri­ons, which are among the strangest of all known infec­tious agents because they do not con­tain any genetic mate­r­ial. Pri­ons also cause scrapie in sheep and fatal wast­ing dis­eases in elk and minks.

    In the future, experts said, sim­i­lar tech­niques might be used to engi­neer ani­mals with more nutri­tious meats — though the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion has said it will require engi­neered food ani­mals to pass tests far more strin­gent than those it recently deemed ade­quate for clones.

    “This is a sem­i­nal research paper,” said Bar­bara Glenn, direc­tor for ani­mal biotech­nol­ogy at the Biotech­nol­ogy Indus­try Orga­ni­za­tion, a Wash­ing­ton indus­try group that counts among its mem­bers Hemat­ech, the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based com­pany that cre­ated the gene-altered cattle.

    “This shows the appli­ca­tion of trans­gen­ics to improv­ing live­stock pro­duc­tion and ulti­mately food production.”

    Pri­ons, which are nor­mal pro­tein com­po­nents of the brain, immune sys­tem and other tis­sues, cause dis­ease only when they “go bad.” For these long strands of pro­tein, that means fold­ing them­selves into three-dimensional shapes that are slightly dif­fer­ent from their con­ven­tional conformation.

    Pri­ons remain poorly under­stood, but exper­i­ments sug­gest that it takes just one bad one to ruin a brain. That’s because a badly folded prion in the brain can strong-arm nor­mal, nearby pri­ons, turn­ing good pri­ons bad.

    ...

    “Appar­ently it is not vital,” Richt said. “By our analy­sis — how do they eat, how is their heart rate, how is their immuno­log­i­cal func­tion — they seem to be normal.”

    Richt empha­sized, how­ever, that the cat­tle are still young and may show signs of trou­ble as they age.

    Next came the ques­tion of whether they are pro­tected against mad cow dis­ease, also known as bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy, or BSE. In one exper­i­ment, tis­sues from one of the ani­mals’ brains were grown in a cul­ture dish and exposed to two dif­fer­ent strains of infec­tious, mad cow pri­ons. As expected, the bad pri­ons did not prop­a­gate, accord­ing to a report in yesterday’s online issue of the jour­nal Nature Biotechnology.

    A more defin­i­tive test — injec­tion of mad cow pri­ons directly into the brains of liv­ing prion-free ani­mals –is now under­way. Because it can take two years or more for symp­toms to appear (and even longer if pri­ons are eaten, the usual mode of trans­mis­sion), it will be another six months or so before the results will be known, said James M. Robl, Hematech’s pres­i­dent and chief sci­en­tific officer.

    Until Decem­ber 2003, mad cow dis­ease had never been found in Amer­i­can cat­tle. That made the pris­tine U.S. herd an ideal resource for com­pa­nies that extract blood and other prod­ucts from cat­tle for use in human pharmaceuticals.

    Later, two other BSE-infected ani­mals were iden­ti­fied, inspir­ing Robl and his team­mates to develop prion-free cattle.

    But poli­cies enacted in recent years by the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment have so reduced the risk of BSE in this coun­try, Robl said (cur­rent esti­mates are that, at most, four to seven cases might be found if all 42 mil­lion head of U.S. cat­tle were to be tested) that it may not be nec­es­sary for Hemat­ech to use prion-free cat­tle as it strives to make potent, disease-killing anti­bod­ies in cat­tle for use in humans with life-threatening infections.

    “If BSE becomes an issue, we’ll know we can make these knock-outs,” Robl said. “So it’s more insur­ance at this point.”

    But what’s even worse is that the mad cow test­ing regime was actively cut by 90% back in April 2007, three months after the above arti­cle was pub­lished and two months after Canada had it’s 9th case of mad cow. That 9th case of Cana­dian mad cow also came one month after the US lifted its ban on the impor­ta­tion of aged cat­tle from Canada to allow US ranch­ers access to cheaper Cana­dian cat­tle. The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for cut­ting back the US screen­ings by 90%? The low per­ceived risk and bur­don­some costs:

    USDA extends mad-cow test­ing at WSU lab
    Orig­i­nally pub­lished April 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page mod­i­fied April 17, 2007 at 11:45 AM

    By The Asso­ci­ated Press

    PULLMAN — The only mad-cow test­ing lab­o­ra­tory in the Pacific North­west will remain open for six more months, but offi­cials insisted Wednes­day it wasn’t because of increased fears of the chronic brain-wasting dis­ease in the region.

    The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) con­tract for test­ing at Wash­ing­ton State University’s Col­lege of Vet­eri­nary Med­i­cine expired March 1 as part of the agency’s efforts to scale back mon­i­tor­ing for bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy (BSE), also known as mad-cow disease.

    The USDA has extended the con­tract through Sept. 30, with the option for fur­ther exten­sions, WSU offi­cials said Wednesday.

    “Reports cir­cu­lated in the media a few months ago that stated the WSU lab­o­ra­tory was shut­ting down,” said Terry McEl­wain, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Wash­ing­ton Ani­mal Dis­ease Diag­nos­tic Lab­o­ra­tory at WSU. “The USDA was sim­ply scal­ing back the amount of test­ing being done but was intent on main­tain­ing the capac­ity and abil­ity to ramp up BSE test­ing in a moment’s notice.

    The con­tract exten­sion is not the result of increased BSE fears in North­west herds, he said.

    “There is no increased con­cern or sus­pi­cion for BSE in the U.S. at this time, and the test­ing we’re doing is part of the USDA’s rou­tine sur­veil­lance that pro­tects ani­mal health and our food sup­ply,” McEl­wain said.

    The WSU lab was opened after the nation’s first mad-cow case, in the Yakima Val­ley in Decem­ber 2003, prompted some new safe­guards. Since then, it has processed more than 46,000 sam­ples sent from slaugh­ter­houses in five North­west states.

    It takes fewer than eight hours to test for BSE at the lab, which has the capac­ity to test sev­eral hun­dred sam­ples a day.

    The USDA announced in March it was reduc­ing its costly national BSE test­ing and track­ing pro­grams by 90 per­cent. Of 759,000 ani­mals tested, only two other infected cows were found after the ini­tial mad-cow scare, prov­ing the dis­ease is extremely rare, the USDA said.

    ...

    Mad-cow dis­ease has infected more than 180,000 cat­tle world­wide since it was first dis­cov­ered in Great Britain in 1986.

    At least 180 peo­ple world­wide have died after eat­ing meat infected with mad-cow dis­ease in the past two decades. Symp­toms can take years to develop.

    Did you catch the log­i­cal fun they employed in their deci­sion to cut back test­ing by 90%? We were assured that test­ing could be ramped up quickly if an emer­gency was detected so don’t worry that, by default, the screen­ing is set up miss most cases. After all, it’s rare so there aren’t many cases to catch. In other words, it’s a screen­ing sys­tem designed to miss any­thing other than a large uptick in mad cow cases. And in other other words, the beef indus­try is com­fort­able with unde­tected low lev­els of mad cow infections...they’re just plan­ning on step­ping in if it gets past some thresh­hold. Sounds safe real safe, doesn’t it? That approach might work for the flu but mad cow ain’t the flu. If you REALLY wanted to track an uptick in some­thing like mad cow, the LOWER your assumed base­line preva­lence of mad cow the HIGHER the num­ber of cows (or what­ever) you’d have to test. Unless you just don’t mind low lev­els of mad cow going unde­tected. And when the low prob­a­bil­ity event (a mad cow infec­tion), is also an infec­tious low prob­a­bil­ity event AND the infec­tion can spread silently for years between cows (and to humans poten­tially), the assump­tion of sus­tained low level infec­tions in our cat­tle sup­ply is the exactly that kind of sit­u­a­tion that turns an unde­tected mad cow out­break to an “when” not “if” sce­nario. As long as the mad cow is NOT man­i­fest­ing as a slowly incu­bat­ing con­di­tion in young cat­tle (beef or dairy) the screen­ing regime can prob­a­bly catch a num­ber of cases that emerge in the lame/downer and elderly cat­tle (when the orig­i­nal source of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion is hard­est to deter­mine due to the pas­sage of time). But if there’s an emerg­ing prob­lem in young calves — a slow act­ing prob­lem that doesn’t result in a bunch of lame calves that can be iden­ti­fied — the pro­posed test­ing regimes that focuses on older and lame cat­tle will remain blind to chronic low level prion infec­tion in the younger cat­tle. At least that’s how it sounds in the arti­cles. I could eas­ily be wrong on this, but the way the news reports char­ac­ter­izes our screen­ing regime there is a huge blind spot for prion infec­tions in young cat­tle. It’s sup­posed to not be able to develop in them because they haven’t lived long enough for the pri­ons to spread, but that’s assum­ing pri­ons behave the same in the future as they have in the past. And in MoJo arti­cle below, this lat­est case in the old dairy cow appears to be an extra vir­u­lent form. Plus, the prac­tice of feed­ing blood prod­ucts to calves is still going on, allow­ing trans­mis­sion to young calves. Because low level infec­tions would required a greater sen­siv­ity to detect, there’s going to be a higher num­ber of tests required to pick up a low uptick in pri­ons. That’s the oppo­site of how things appear to be set up, with healthy look young cat­tle largely ignored from screen­ing now that things have been cut back 90%, so that’s kind of a big deal IF that “low prob­a­bil­ity” event of a wide spread infec­tion takes place amongst the young cat­tle and the mad cow screen­ing regime can’t pick it up.

    And that 90% screen­ing reduc­tion in 2007 is assum­ing that the detec­tion rate of 2 cows in 759,000 sam­ples tested from 2003–2007 is truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the preva­lence and that reg­u­la­tions designed to keep that rate down will be fol­lowed by the indus­try going for­ward indef­i­nitely. But as this arti­cle from Febuary 2007 indi­cates, the ramped up phase of the ini­tial mass screen­ing in 2004 (fol­low­ing the ini­tial mad cow case in 2003) was vol­un­tary. That sure sounds like the indus­try has a “choice” as to whether or not they sub­mit lame/downer cat­tle for test­ing, a sta­tis­ti­cal no-no when the profit motive and cor­po­rate rep­u­ta­tions are involved. And it’s an excep­tion­ally big deal when you’re talk­ing talk­ing about mea­sur­ing a very low prob­a­bil­ity event. You can’t miss those downer cat­tle com­pa­nies might want to hide when you’re look­ing for a sup­posed one in a mil­lion event. In May of 2005 there was a pro­posed manda­tory test­ing regime that was to start by 2009, but in April of 2006 the test­ing regime was sig­nif­i­cantly scaled back due to esti­mates that the preva­lence of mad cow as very low (and this was based on the vol­un­tary test­ing that started in 2004). This was also one month after the third case of mad cow was found in Alabama. And in Novem­ber 2006, the USDA decided to make the planned 2009 test­ing regime vol­un­tary. So keep in mind that while there is much tout­ing of the fact that this lat­est case in CA is the first case found in six years, that might have some­thing to do with the fact that test­ing was cut back by 90% five years ago:

    Thurs­day, Feb­ru­ary 22, 2007 — Page updated at 12:00 AM

    Mad-cow scrutiny is scaled way back

    By Sandi Doughton

    Seat­tle Times staff reporter

    While Wash­ing­ton ranch­ers are rais­ing a fuss over Cana­dian cat­tle and the dan­ger of mad-cow dis­ease, the region’s only mad-cow test­ing lab is qui­etly prepar­ing to close March 1.

    The lab at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­sity in Pull­man opened after the nation’s first mad-cow case spurred a flurry of new safe­guards against the fatal, brain-wasting disease.

    But three years later, many of those mea­sures are being dis­man­tled. Oth­ers pro­posed after the infected dairy cow was dis­cov­ered in Mabton, Yakima County, never materialized.

    Mad-cow dis­ease

    Dec. 23, 2003: A Yakima Val­ley dairy cow on its way to slaugh­ter tests pos­i­tive for mad-cow dis­ease. The cow orig­i­nally came from Canada, where the dis­ease had been first con­firmed in May.

    Dec. 30, 2003: The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture bans “downer” cat­tle, those too sick or injured to walk, from the food supply.

    Jan. 26, 2004: The Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion pro­poses ban­ning feed­ing cow blood, chicken manure and food scraps to cattle.

    June 1, 2004: USDA launches a pro­gram to test at least 220,000 ani­mals for mad-cow over the next 12 to 18 months.

    Novem­ber 2004: USDA starts a vol­un­tary pilot pro­gram to track and iden­tify cat­tle in seven West­ern states.

    May 2005: Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Mike Johanns says a manda­tory, nation­wide animal-tracking sys­tem will be in place by 2009.

    June 24, 2005: Tests of a Texas beef cow con­firm the sec­ond case of mad-cow dis­ease in the U.S.

    March 2006: The nation’s third case of mad-cow dis­ease is con­firmed in a cow in Alabama.

    April 2006: USDA says it will scale back mad-cow test­ing after deter­min­ing the preva­lence of the dis­ease in the nation’s cat­tle herd is “extra­or­di­nar­ily low.”

    Nov. 22, 2006: USDA reverses its plans and says the national animal-tracking pro­gram will be vol­un­tary, not mandatory.

    Jan. 4, 2007: USDA says it may lift a ban on the impor­ta­tion of older cows from Canada.

    Last week: Canada reports its ninth mad-cow case.

    Source: Seat­tle Times archives

    The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) recently scaled back mad-cow test­ing by more than 90 per­cent, lead­ing to clo­sure of the WSU lab and sev­eral oth­ers around the coun­try. The agency has backed off plans for a manda­tory animal-tracking sys­tem, which can help iden­tify the source of an infec­tion and other ani­mals at risk, and now says the pro­gram will be voluntary.

    Sev­eral of the unap­pe­tiz­ing — and risky — prac­tices that came to light in the wake of the ini­tial mad-cow case are still allowed, includ­ing the use of cow blood as a food sup­ple­ment for calves.

    And even the pro­hi­bi­tion on slaugh­ter­ing sickly cows, called down­ers, for human con­sump­tion has not been made per­ma­nent, though it is being enforced.

    “There have been some improve­ments, but USDA stopped short of imple­ment­ing sev­eral impor­tant pro­grams that are vital not only to pro­tect against [mad-cow], but to pro­tect the indus­try against other dis­eases,” said Car­o­line Smith DeWaal, direc­tor of food safety at the Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic Inter­est (CSPI), a non­profit consumer-advocacy group.

    The USDA says mad-cow is very rare in the United States, and costly test­ing and track­ing pro­grams aren’t nec­es­sary. Out of 759,000 ani­mals tested after the ini­tial mad-cow scare, only two other infected cows were found.

    The local cat­tle indus­try is most upset by USDA’s pro­posal to reopen the bor­der to ship­ments of older cat­tle from Canada. The first U.S. mad-cow case was an old Hol­stein shipped from Canada, and ranch­ers don’t want a repeat of the furor in Decem­ber 2003 that led dozens of nations to boy­cott Amer­i­can beef, said Jack Field, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Wash­ing­ton Cattlemen’s Association.

    ...

    Field’s group is back­ing bills in the state Leg­is­la­ture to strengthen tag­ging and track­ing of Cana­dian cat­tle imported to the United States and make it clear that vio­la­tors can be fined up to $1,000 per animal.

    But local and national cat­tle groups have fiercely objected to sim­i­larly strict track­ing for Amer­i­can ani­mals, which is one of the rea­sons USDA aban­doned its push for a manda­tory system.

    Because ani­mal track­ing is so spotty, inves­ti­ga­tors were never able to locate all of the cat­tle that were shipped from Canada with the first infected cow, DeWaal pointed out. The same prob­lems arose after the two other infected ani­mals were found, one in Texas and one in Alabama. Both were born in the U.S.

    Safe­guards eased

    Cat­tle test­ing: A large-scale mad-cow test­ing pro­gram is ending.

    Ani­mal track­ing: A pro­posed manda­tory animal-tracking sys­tem will be voluntary.

    Cat­tle feed: The use of cow blood as a food sup­ple­ment for calves is still allowed.

    Slaugh­ter restric­tions: A tem­po­rary ban on the slaugh­ter of ail­ing cows for human con­sump­tion has not been made permanent.

    Cana­dian imports: A ban on older cows from Canada may be lifted.

    If another case turned up in Wash­ing­ton today, state vet­eri­nar­ian Leonard Eldridge con­cedes, it would be no eas­ier to fig­ure out where the ani­mal came from or locate other cat­tle that could have eaten the same feed — con­sid­ered the most likely route of infection.

    “The need is still there to be able to iden­tify ani­mals and con­tain a dis­ease quickly,” he said.

    BSE does not appear to jump from ani­mal to ani­mal, but with­out a good track­ing sys­tem, it would be dif­fi­cult to stop the spread of more highly infec­tious dis­eases, Eldridge said.

    Canada has adopted a manda­tory track­ing sys­tem that requires detailed record-keeping and radio-frequency ear tags.

    But when the Cat­tle Pro­duc­ers of Wash­ing­ton sifted through hun­dreds of pages of doc­u­ments on younger Cana­dian ani­mals, which are cur­rently allowed into the state, they found that many lacked the required ID tags, paper­work often didn’t match health records and at least one ani­mal infected with ring­worm entered the U.S.

    “What it really boiled down to is that the Cana­dian sys­tem is not even com­ing close to work­ing prop­erly,” said Willard Wolf, the Spokane cat­tle bro­ker who is the indus­try group’s vice president.

    USDA spokes­woman Andrea McNally dis­missed the prob­lems as “minor record-keeping” issues, but said the agency is still investigating.

    Wolf said he’s opposed to manda­tory track­ing in the United States because it’s expen­sive and not fea­si­ble for America’s vast range­lands or the com­plex way cat­tle are shipped around the coun­try. He favors an expan­sion of the exist­ing sys­tem of brands.

    The Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture esti­mates only about 6 per­cent of the state’s cat­tle own­ers have reg­is­tered the loca­tion where they keep ani­mals, the first step in a vol­un­tary track­ing system.

    Almost all Euro­pean nations have animal-tracking sys­tems. Many would like to import Amer­i­can beef, but are wary because the sys­tem here is so hap­haz­ard, said Mo Salman, a mad-cow expert from Col­orado State Uni­ver­sity. “Some­times they laugh at us,” he said.

    Most Euro­pean and Asian nations also test a much higher per­cent­age of ani­mals for mad-cow dis­ease than the United States does.

    USDA boosted test­ing in 2004. Dur­ing an 18-month period, a total of 759,000 ani­mals were tested, includ­ing 45,000 in the Northwest.

    The fact that only two addi­tional cases turned up proves that BSE is exceed­ingly rare in the U.S, McNally said. That’s why the agency decided to scale back the costly pro­gram and tar­get only about 40,000 ani­mals a year. U.S. test­ing still exceeds the rec­om­men­da­tions of the World Orga­ni­za­tion for Ani­mal Health.

    USDA’s inspec­tor gen­eral had crit­i­cized USDA’s expanded test­ing pro­gram, say­ing it could have missed the highest-risk ani­mals. The expanded sys­tem was vol­un­tary, so it might not have cap­tured a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of the nation’s herd.

    “It’s as though the USDA was design­ing a ‘don’t look, don’t find’ sys­tem,” said Michael Hansen, staff sci­en­tist for Con­sumers Union, pub­lisher of Con­sumer Reports.

    Instead of mad-cow test­ing, Salman of Col­orado State Uni­ver­sity said the agency should improve enforce­ment of the two rules that pro­vide the best defense against BSE: a ban on pro­cess­ing cat­tle parts into cat­tle feed — a prac­tice that is believed to have touched off Britain’s mad-cow epi­demic; and rules to keep the most infec­tive cow parts, like brains and spinal cords, out of the human food supply.

    Even those mea­sures have fallen short, accord­ing to an analy­sis by the con­sumer group Pub­lic Cit­i­zen that found more than 800 vio­la­tions in slaugh­ter­houses and meat-packing plants in 2004 and 2005.

    Slaugh­ter­house waste and dead cat­tle are still used to make chicken, pig and pet food. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing rules that would ban the brains and spinal cords of older cat­tle from all ani­mal feed, but a wide range of crit­ics say the rules still leave some dan­ger­ous loop­holes. One is the prac­tice of using cat­tle blood in for­mula fed to young calves.

    ...

    So not only was the ini­tial sam­pling of the rate of infec­tion in 2004 a vol­un­tary sam­pling (which raises seri­ous con­cerns about how rep­re­sen­ta­tive that rate of 2 in 759,000 cat­tle really is), but ranch­ers were/are still poten­tially feed­ing calves blood prod­ucts and plan­centa which is known to spread the dis­ease from mother to calf. AND elderly cows from Canada, which has an even big­ger recorded mad cow prob­lem, were now made avail­able for import.

    And, to bring it back around to the lat­est case of mad cow, now we know that an infected cow was pro­duc­ing milk for who knows how many years in Cal­i­for­nia. On top of the obvi­ous con­cern of that infected cow spread­ing the pri­ons to who knows how many dif­feret calves via the feed­ing of cat­tle blood for­mula, just how con­fi­dent can we really be that pri­ons can’t be spread in milk. As one of the above arti­cles points out, exper­i­ments sug­gest just one bad prion can poten­tially ruin a brain so the spread of bad pri­ons, even at low lev­els, is a very rel­e­vant ques­tion. Today’s pri­ons might not be as vir­u­lent as tomorrow’s strains. But we’re assured that every­one is safe because you can’t catch mad cow from milk. Why do we know that you can’t catch it? Because we haven’t observed it hap­pen­ing yet. That’s why. Some­how absence of evi­dence is evi­dence of future absence when it comes to low prob­a­bil­ity unprece­dented future events. Even when being wrong about the risks might lead to Zom­bieland:

    Mother Jones
    Can You Get Mad Cow Dis­ease From Milk?

    –By Tom Philpott
    | Thu Apr. 26, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

    USDA-mandated test­ing turned up a downed Cal­i­for­nia dairy cow that was infected with bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy (BSE), also known as mad cow dis­ease, the agency announced Tues­day. Accord­ing to an exec with the ren­der­ing plant where the poor beast ended up, it was cho­sen for test­ing com­pletely at ran­dom, hav­ing shown “no signs” of disease.

    The sce­nario sug­gests that rel­a­tively recently, a BSE-infected cow was pro­duc­ing milk for pub­lic con­sump­tion. Accord­ing to the USDA, there’s noth­ing to worry about. The agency’s chief vet­eri­nary offi­cer, John Clif­ford, released a state­ment Tues­day declar­ing that the the the cow in ques­tion had “atyp­i­cal BSE, a very rare form of the dis­ease not gen­er­ally asso­ci­ated with an ani­mal con­sum­ing infected feed.” He added that “milk does not trans­mit BSE.”

    USDA-mandated test­ing turned up a downed Cal­i­for­nia dairy cow that was infected with bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy (BSE), also known as mad cow dis­ease, the agency announced Tues­day. Accord­ing to an exec with the ren­der­ing plant where the poor beast ended up, it was cho­sen for test­ing com­pletely at ran­dom, hav­ing shown “no signs” of disease.

    The sce­nario sug­gests that rel­a­tively recently, a BSE-infected cow was pro­duc­ing milk for pub­lic con­sump­tion. Accord­ing to the USDA, there’s noth­ing to worry about. The agency’s chief vet­eri­nary offi­cer, John Clif­ford, released a state­ment Tues­day declar­ing that the the the cow in ques­tion had “atyp­i­cal BSE, a very rare form of the dis­ease not gen­er­ally asso­ci­ated with an ani­mal con­sum­ing infected feed.” He added that “milk does not trans­mit BSE.”

    But act­ing on a tip from Con­sumers Union chief sci­en­tist Michael Hansen, I have found research that calls that claim into ques­tion. The research involves a brain-wasting dis­ease affect­ing sheep called scrapie, which, like BSE, is what’s known as a trans­mis­si­ble spongi­form encephalopa­thy. Unlike BSE, scrapie is not thought to infect humans; but like BSE, scrapie is thought to be caused by some­thing called pri­ons, which are rather ter­ri­fy­ing. Here’s how the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol describes them:

    ...
    So, I’ve found two dif­fer­ent stud­ies that sug­gest that scrapie does in fact trans­mit from sheep to sheep through milk.

    The first, by French, Nor­we­gian, and British researchers and pub­lished in the peer-reviewed US jour­nal PLoS Pathogens in 2008, found pri­ons in sheep milk. The authors state:

    This find­ing indi­cates that milk from small rumi­nants could con­tribute to the trans­mis­sion of prion dis­ease between ani­mals. It also raises some con­cern with regard to the risk to humans asso­ci­ated with milk prod­ucts from ovine and other dairy species. [Empha­sis added.]

    The sec­ond, by UK researchers and pub­lished in BMC Vet­eri­nary Research in 2008, also demon­strated “trans­mis­sion of scrapie from ewe to lamb via milk (or colostrum).”

    Now, this research doesn’t show that BSE can move from cow milk to humans. But it rep­re­sents evi­dence that pri­ons can move from ani­mal to ani­mal through milk. In a phone inter­view, Hansen stressed that pre­vi­ous stud­ies have sug­gested that “clas­sic” BSE-not the “atyp­i­cal” one found in the Cal­i­for­nia cow-does not trans­mit through milk. But he added that he’s not aware of any stud­ies regard­ing “atyp­i­cal” BSE and milk. More­over, he added that the stud­ies regard­ing scrapie and milk are using “more sen­si­tive” test­ing pro­ce­dures than the pre­vi­ous ones involv­ing clas­sic BSE and cow’s milk.

    He called the pos­si­bil­ity that the BSE found in that Cal­i­for­nia dairy cow can pass through milk an “open question.”

    Hansen also noted a report in the Wash­ing­ton Post which stated that the BSE found in the cow is of the L-Type. “If that report is accu­rate, it’s not good news,” he said. He called L-type BSE to be “far more vir­u­lent” than clas­si­cal BSE and pointed me to a 2008 study in Emerg­ing Infec­tious Dis­eases that sub­jected “human­ized” mice (genet­i­cally engi­neered to have human pro­teins) to L-type BSE. The study found that L-type BSE tran­sited to the mice with “no sig­nif­i­cant trans­mis­sion bar­rier,” while “in com­par­i­son, trans­mis­sion of clas­si­cal BSE agent to the same mice showed a sub­stan­tial barrier.”

    I asked Hansen if milk from a cow infected with L-type BSE posed more of a risk than that of milk from a cow with clas­sic BSE. “Oh, absolutely,” he replied.

    And with alarm­ing his­tory and a new case of mad cow at hand, will there at least be a review of our screen­ing poli­cies and maybe an attempt to update them? And will the new mad cow dis­cov­ery at least prompt the promised “ramped up” higher rate of test­ing that can take place if a height­ened risk is found? Of course not:

    Bloomberg
    USDA Says Mad Cow Test Drop Is No Meat-Supply Threat
    By Stephanie Armour and Alan Bjerga — Apr 26, 2012 9:36 AM CT

    The num­ber of cat­tle tested for mad cow dis­ease has fallen almost 90 per­cent since 2005, accord­ing to U.S. Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment sta­tis­tics, a drop that con­sumer groups say endan­gers America’s food supply.

    U.S. Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack yes­ter­day said that ani­mal test­ing is ade­quate, a day after his depart­ment con­firmed the nation’s first known case of mad cow dis­ease in six years, a dead dairy ani­mal on its way to a ren­der­ing plant in cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia.

    About 40,000 cat­tle were tested in the year ended Sept. 30, down from 399,575 in 2005, accord­ing to USDA data. The drop-off fol­lowed a surge in test­ing con­ducted to estab­lish the preva­lence of the dis­ease as the agency was try­ing to under­stand the risk and cre­ate a long-term mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem, John Clif­ford, the USDA’s chief vet­eri­nar­ian, said in an interview.

    He said test­ing is only one com­po­nent of the agency’s strat­egy to com­bat mad cow dis­ease, which includes lim­it­ing the con­sump­tion of cer­tain parts of cat­tle and restrict­ing the con­tent of their feed. Chris Wal­drop, direc­tor of the Food Pol­icy Insti­tute of the Con­sumer Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ica, a Washington-based safety advo­cacy group, said the test­ing decline means the U.S. is rely­ing too much on other safe­guards, which aren’t foolproof.

    Need for Firewalls

    “If you’re not going to test as much, your fire­walls bet­ter be per­fect, and there are loop­holes in the fire­walls,” Wal­drop said. “After going so long with­out hav­ing a case in the U.S., and now we have one, it war­rants another look at the sur­veil­lance pro­gram and ramp­ing it up, at least tem­porar­ily, to see if there is some­thing new going on.”

    USDA inves­ti­ga­tions typ­i­cally include tests of ani­mals that were in the same herd as the dis­eased cow, as well as feed the ani­mal may have con­sumed, Clif­ford said. Even when an ani­mal tests pos­i­tive for a form of BSE not con­nected to feed, as in this case, the inves­tiga­tive pro­ce­dures are the same, he said. Any off­s­r­p­ing of the infected ani­mal are also checked.

    The USDA has not yet pub­licly iden­ti­fied the farm where the ani­mal came from, or if the cow had any calves. Clif­ford would not com­ment on the cur­rent investigation.

    Monthly Fluc­tu­a­tion

    The new case won’t spur more tests, as one case of the dis­ease, known as bovine spongi­form encephalopa­thy, in six years doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily indi­cate increased BSE preva­lence, Clif­ford said.

    The 2004 surge in test­ing was “an effort to col­lect as many sam­ples as we could over 12 to 18 months to deter­mine preva­lence in the U.S.,” Clif­ford said. “After that, we went to a reg­u­lar sur­veil­lance level that far exceeds inter­na­tional standards.”

    The sur­veil­lance tests focus on older cat­tle and ani­mals that may be exhibit­ing symp­toms of the brain-wasting dis­ease, he said.

    About 40,000 ani­mals are sam­pled each year, less than 0.1 per­cent of the U.S. cat­tle herd, accord­ing to USDA records.

    Test­ing has fluc­tu­ated in recent months, from 2,434 sam­ples in April 2012, down from 4,855 in March and 5,417 in Feb­ru­ary, accord­ing to the USDA.

    Analy­sis of the 2004 to 2006 data con­cluded the preva­lence of BSE in the U.S. is less than 1 case per mil­lion adult cat­tle, accord­ing to the agency. As of Jan. 1, the country’s herd of cat­tle and calves totaled 90.8 mil­lion ani­mals, accord­ing to the USDA.

    More test­ing isn’t nec­es­sary now that the USDA has a han­dle on the extent of the dis­ease, said Eric Mit­ten­thal, a spokesman with the Amer­i­can Meat Insti­tute, a trade group based in Wash­ing­ton that includes Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) and Cargill Inc. among its members.

    “Some crit­ics have argued that every ani­mal needs to be tested,” Mit­ten­thal said in an e-mail. “That’s like say­ing that kinder­garten­ers should be tested for Alzheimer’s,” he said. “USDA appro­pri­ately focuses its sur­veil­lance on older ani­mals and ani­mals that are dis­play­ing clin­i­cal signs of the dis­ease,” he said.
    Ran­dom Tests

    Still, ran­dom tests aren’t enough to ensure that dis­eased cows don’t taint the food sup­ply, Michael Hansen, a staff sci­en­tist at the non­profit Con­sumers Union of Yonkers, New York, said yesterday.

    U.S. test­ing “is very con­sis­tent with inter­na­tional stan­dards and we want to make sure we abide by those inter­na­tional stan­dards,” the USDA’s Vil­sack said.

    ...

    Don’t for­get that this whole dynamic is much like­lier and more destruc­tive dur­ing a period of con­cen­trated eco­nomic power and the cap­ture of very struc­ture of the econ­omy through car­tels and a bought and paid for reg­u­la­tory scheme. Fas­cists bring gov­ern­ment on the cheap. That’s what “small gov­ern­ment” ends up being under stu­pid polit­i­cal dya­n­im­ics of any sort because the same incom­pe­tence that cre­ates the bloat cuts the fat. The gut­ting of mad cow test­ing because of cost is just insane given the con­se­quences of a mess up. Bad pol­icy and bad pri­vate sec­tor behav­ior in con­cert is often super prof­itable but it can end up going awry and requir­ing a bailout. And mad cows get bio­log­i­cal bailouts. Those are the worst.

    Mad­ness: It’s what for dinner.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 29, 2012, 11:27 pm
  5. @Pterrafractyl: While I still doubt a Mad Cow prion true epidemic(as in tens of mil­lions of deaths a la Span­ish Flu) is even remotely close to likely by any means, this infor­ma­tion is indeed wor­ri­some because there very well could be tens of thou­sands of peo­ple who could end up being sick­ened by this and have symp­toms not show up until a few decades after­wards, and then peo­ple won­der why so many peo­ple are dying of such sim­i­lar causes.

    I real­ize that there are still some decent peo­ple in the med­ical estab­lish­ment and hope­fully they can start gain­ing the upper hand soon. =(

    Although, to be hon­est with you, I didn’t believe BP when they claimed that the Gulf inci­dent was a ‘low prob­a­bil­ity’ event. Frankly, I think they knew it was the exact opposite......same may have gone for Fukushima as well.

    Posted by Steven L. | April 30, 2012, 6:33 am
  6. @Steven L.: I’d agree that a mas­sive unde­tected mad cow out­break highly unlikely to ran­domly emerge. And it’s net not “likely” over, say, a ten year time frame. But if we keep up these dan­ger­ous indus­try prac­tices and main­tain the con­di­tions nec­es­sary for the highly unlikely to actu­ally hap­pen, it will even­tu­ally hap­pen. Just give it enough time. Think of that story from last year about the sci­en­tists that cre­ated an air­borne ver­sion of bird flu. The ran­dom steps required to go from the exist­ing reg­u­lar bird flu strains to an air­borne vari­ety were viewed as improb­a­ble events. Yes, even­tu­ally it would hap­pen because of sheer num­ber of sick bird farmed around the world, but the research com­mu­nity hadn’t expected these researchers to make the much feared air­borne strain so eas­ily. All they had to do was keep pass­ing mutated strain from one ani­mal to the next and in less than 10 iter­a­tions that had their air­borne strain and voila, nature defied our odds mak­ers. Now, the muta­tion rates of a virus aren’t the same as the muta­tion rates in cows. But think about unknowns like the prac­tice of rou­tinely genet­i­cally mod­i­fy­ing and mass cloning cat­tle or bioter­ror. The bioter­ror poten­tial is espe­cially trou­ble­some because it’s so obvi­ous to the world that there are these large sys­temic blind spots in the screen­ing. It’s like walk­ing around with a “kick me and then poison-me” sign taped to your back. You’re just ask­ing for it. Because of unknown fac­tors like these I would put the pos­si­bil­ity of a seri­ous out­break some time over the next 50 years as more than remote. It’s still unlikely over­all, but I can’t say I’d be par­tic­u­larly sur­prised at this point if we dis­cov­ered one day that, say, 25% of peo­ple Alzheimers patients were also suf­fer­ing from low-level mad cow-complications. It also wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing if that never hap­pened. That’s how I’d char­ac­ter­ize my sense of odds of a seri­ous future mad cow at this point: it’s not prob­a­ble but still rea­son­able pos­si­ble given what we now.

    Most of the ways we could poten­tially destroys our­selves are indi­vid­u­ally unlikely. It’s the sheer num­ber of grave­yards that we’re whistling past these days that’s going to seal our doom.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 30, 2012, 9:06 am
  7. The sup­posed advan­tages to the pub­lic of car­tel oper­a­tions are uni­for­mity of pro­duc­tion qual­ity, economies of scale and stream­lined reg­u­la­tion. None of these ever quite mate­ri­al­ize. Instead we get price col­lu­sion, lower qual­ity, cor­rup­tion of the entire chain of pro­duc­tion and an indus­try large enough to con­trol its own leg­isla­tive agenda. That’s hap­pened with cof­fee, bananas, sugar, oil, steel, ten­nis shoes and baby rat­tles over a cen­tury. Many small sup­pli­ers of a com­mod­ity is what makes for an equi­table mar­ket. Full employ­ment, many medium wealthy peo­ple and no bil­lon­aires is the result of such a mar­ket. Lim­its to per­sonal net worth and a global end to secret bank­ing are a first step. OWS needs that as a def­i­nite agenda. Then we would see the real bat­tle lines drawn.

    Posted by Dwight | April 30, 2012, 10:47 am
  8. @Pterrafractyl: And I very much agree with you. It is far bet­ter, no, INFINITELY bet­ter, in this case, to be extra-cautious and never have a sin­gle out­break, than to be totally care­less and for tens of thou­sands to start drop­ping dead. And unfor­tu­nately, if care­less­ness con­tin­ues, then a sig­nif­i­cant out­break is indeed pos­si­ble within half a cen­tury or so.

    I do hope things will get bet­ter, but we must con­tinue to remain as vig­i­lant as pos­si­ble if that is to be achieved.

    Posted by Steven L. | April 30, 2012, 4:38 pm
  9. @Dwight: That is def­i­nitely some­thing I can agree with.

    Posted by Steven L. | May 1, 2012, 7:58 am

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