From: "AEN" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: news- Business Edge June 5-11 Vol 3 -- Mad Cow was a Disaster
Waiting to Happen - Andrew Nikiforuk
Date: Fri, 6 Jun 2022 16:29:02 -0600
Mad cow was disaster waiting to happen
We're reaping the consequences of factory farming and negligence
By Andrew Nikiforuk
For Business Edge, June 5-11/03 Vol 3,#23
The mad cow crisis that has unsettled Alberta's $15-billion beef
a lesson in absolute madness. Before it's all over, this gut-wrenching
disaster could rewrite the province's rural economy as well as its
To date, the mayhem wrought by one mad cow clearly shows just how
regulators, government and careless industrialization policies have
cattlemen down. It also underscores a number of damnable realities:
1. Never say never. Throughout the 1990s, itinerant professional
the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA) mocked consumers or
concerned about BSE.
individuals such as Claude Lavigne and Penny Greenwood, two civil
servants ostensibly on guard against this infectious agent, repeatedly
that it can't happen here; that it's "a European disease" and
that there is " no risk."
Larry MacDougal, Business Edge
Careless industrialization policies have let cattlemen and their
down, says Nikiforuk.
This is exactly what U.K. officials did for a decade before BSE unsettled
rural Britain, forced the slaughter of 4.5 million animals and hammered
livestock genetic diversity.
Douglas Powell, a food science professor at Guelph University,
noted, "no-risk messages" always provoke dangerous outcomes.
In fact, the
arrogance and strich-like behaviour of the Canadian government have
magnified the economic and social effects of the current crisis beyond
2. In a global economy, what goes around comes around. At the beginning
the BSE epidemic in the early 1990s, U.K. scientists clearly identified
practice of high-tech cannibalism, or feeding cow bits to cattle,
Yet the U.K. continued to export feed made from downer, or sick,
around the world until the late '90s. The trade in hormones and vaccines
made from bovine roducts continued even longer. The export of contaminated
feed largely explains why 20 countries, including Japan, now have
also explains why a 2001 Health Canada study concluded that BSE
and well in Canadian cattle. Given the murky trade in livestock products
BSE's eight-year incubation period, the report noted that "animals
harbouring the infective agent without reaching the state of disease
which clinical signs or infectivity in brain tissues could have developed."
No global trader, in other words, can escape the global disease
3. Governments that refuse to be proactive are a greater threat
communities than mad cows. Despite all the recent fanfare and slaughter
exposed cattle (and most of these killings have served no public
purpose), the Canadian and Alberta governments have been irresponsible
regulators. For starters, the feds didn't start a surveillance program
BSE until 1992. That's two years after the U.S. set up its program.
Moreover, the current system, which only tests 3,000 out of 3.6
slaughtered animals a year, is grossly inadequate. In contrast, Europe
one out of four animals. But thanks to Premier Ralph Klein's chaotic
governing and indefensible promotion of game ranching, Alberta pathologists
were so busy checking for mad elk and mad deer that they couldn't
suspected mad cow for three months.
Canada didn't ban animal feed made from downer cattle until 1997.
That's one year after the Americans. Nor did Canada exclude contaminated
blood products from the U.K. until a full year after the British
a ban. With friends like these, the citizens and farmers of Canada
enemies. 4. BSE was never an issue until industrialization made it
health threat. The late Richard Marsh, one of the world's foremost
authorities on brain-wasting diseases, found that BSE existed in
populations in an unrecognized form for generations.
one in 900,000 animals may spontaneously develop BSE. In fact,
traced back several outbreaks of transmissible mink encephalopathy
mink disease" to high-protein feed made from sick dairy cattle
as long as 45
years ago in Ontario and Wisconsin. So strains of BSE are probably
everywhere on this continent, including the U.S.
in the last 30 years the intensification of livestock production
illustrated by the expansion of Alberta's feedlot industry - has
the demand for animal protein in order to raise animals faster and
cheaply. Marsh argued for a complete ban on "the feeding of
protein to other ruminants" nearly a decade before any government
one. Canada's ban on feeding cattle bits to cattle is still flawed.
made from rendered pigs and chickens in BSE countries can be sold
and fed to
Canadian livestock. And sick domestic cows can be fed to pigs and
whose rendered bits can, in turn, be fed back to cattle. As many
have noted, "cannibalistic feeding pathways" still exist
Industrial food systems that concentrate livestock in ever-growing
in order to
supply foreign markets create more problems than
solve. Even the UN's conservative Food and Agriculture Organization
traced a "growing threat of devastating animal diseases" back
farming and the long- distance transport of livestock.
Alberta has bought into this system and all its attendant vulnerabilities
the last decade. Klein not only encouraged the industrialization
of the beef
industry by promoting feedlots, but helped subsidize two multinational
slaughterhouses. As a consequence, the province's cattle herd has
doubled to seven million animals. Faced with drought last year, the
had to import feed and Alberta's famed barley-fed beef abruptly became
corn-fed beef. (Cattle are no more designed to eat corn than they
Thanks to over-expansion, the feedlot industry was in deep financial
long before one mad cow came along.
In fact, the beef industry has grown so carelessly that the Canadian
Health Coalition recently warned that even a small-scale outbreak
foot-and-mouth disease - a trade virus with no public health implications
could shut out the province from the export market for five months
more than $8 billion in lost revenue.
as Klein and others have chanted, "the system is working."
Governments that act as Soviet promoters of industry reap Soviet
for farmers. Both Klein's government and the Canadian Food Inspection
have actively promoted the "bigger is better" idea that
has undone prairie
agriculture and depopulated rural Canada. Both governments have also
and, in many cases, actively suppressed the social and public health
consequences of factory farming.
And both governments have encouraged the penning of wild elk and
practice that has spread disease across the prairies and that may
the entire beef industry.
In fact, game ranching - a Soviet diversification scheme designed
government bureaucrats - may represent a greater threat to agriculture
one mad cow. Klein and Ottawa ignored all the scientific evidence
ranching was both an economic disaster and a disease bridge for cattle
wildlife alike - and with costly results. First came a $30-million
epidemic that affected cattle, people and wildlife. Now, chronic
disease (CWD), a deadly relative of BSE, has decimated game ranches
resulted in the slaughter of 7,000 animals.
is noteworthy that the mad cow found in Alberta may have been born
region of Saskatchewan "hot" with CWD. More than 100 game
ranchers are now
suing the federal government for incompetence and negligence. Will
farmers be doing the same?
The limits of globalization are most pronounced in agriculture.
Berry, a U.S. farm critic, has often noted people want to know where
food comes from and how it was produced. This explains why locally
organic food is the fastest-growing farming sector - a development
Canadian government predicted or supported. Consumers, writes Berry, "are
increasingly aware that the larger and more centralized the food
becomes, the more vulnerable it will be to natural or economic catastrophe,
to political or military disruption, and to bad agricultural practice."
(Andrew Nikiforuk eats grass-fed beef from the foothills and is
of The Fourth Horseman: A Short History of Plagues, Scourges and
Alberta Environmental Network Society
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Ph: (780) 433 9302 Fax:(780) 433 9305
AEN Staff: Barry Breau - Managing Director
Affiliate of the Canadian Environmental Network