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Mad Cow Rules Violated by Meat Plants

Last fall, I posted a testimonial from a farmer in the Northwest United States who claimed to have killed the mad cow that caused so much panic among meat exporters and consumers. I'm still not sure how valid his claims were, but not his concerns about the effects spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- "technicalese" for mad cow disease -- have on people.

That's why I was alarmed to read that parts of cattle supposedly banned under rules enacted after the nation's first case of mad cow disease are still appearing in the human food chain, according to the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the union that represents federal inspectors in meat plants.

In a letter sent to the U.S. Departrment of Agriculture earlier this month, the National Joint Council noted body parts known as "specified risk materials" -- including the brains, skulls, spinal cords and lower intestines of cattle older than 30 months -- were still being allowed into the production chain. Moreover, inspectors had found heads and carcasses of some cows on slaughter and processing lines that were not always correctly marked as being older than 30 months. That age is the cutoff for rules governing the use of higher-risk materials in human food: Any animal older than 30 months must have any such parts removed before it can be cut up into meat.

The larger issue: Plant employees responsible for checking the age of cattle were not always marking older carcasses. Inspectors on the processing lines checked cattle heads themselves and found some from older animals that had been passed through unmarked.

If you didn't understand why I ALWAYS recommend eating meat from grass-fed animals, now you know! Much of the concern surrounding mad cow disease stems from the mysterious and random nature of the condition. No one knows for sure what causes mad cow disease or how it is transmitted. There is no known cure, and it leads quickly to death virtually 100 percent of the time.

MSNBC December 20, 2004

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