Recently, the U.S. government officially acknowledged the presence of a lame cow slaughtered in Washington State that had the degenerative disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). This disease is caused by the prion, a recently understood biological concept, and represents a new threat to public health. The beef industry is guilty of distributing and actually speeding the evolution of this disease due to their grossly inhumane feeding and slaughtering practices. The majority of people are complicit in this crime because they pay to run the factory farms, slaughterhouses and rendering plants that dominate cattle farming today regardless of their inhumane nature.

The identification of this new threat to human health has been a very recent event. A veterinarian who observed dairy cows that appeared “mad” first identified bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in Britain in 1986. In 1997 Stanley Prusiner was awarded a Nobel Prize for his hypothesis on the mechanism of this fatal disease. Prusiner identified prions, infectious proteins that replicate within mammals to cause disease and death. Different than the already largely understood virus, prions replicate without the use of genetic coding. The WHO reports that between 1986 and 2002 181,376 mad cows were identified in Britain. Sick cattle have also been identified in France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, as well as isolated cases all over the globe. The related Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) has been officially identified in 139 people, and has already mutated into a separate variant known as vCJD since its introduction into the human host. Incubation times for these diseases are years long; therefore it is likely that the full outbreak of CJD has not yet occurred.

It is now believed that BSE represents an evolution of a disease caused by prions in sheep and goats. This evolution was prompted sometime after 1930 when beef farmers began using cattle feed that included rendered animal parts. Rendered animal parts used in cattle feed have included anything from cattle spinal cords, nervous systems, skin, chicken parts, or sheep meat. These animal parts make a cheap source of protein to feed otherwise herbivorous cattle. Those farmers who employed this cost cutting maneuver introduced the sheep scrapie disease to a new niche and the disease evolved to prey on these new cattle hosts.

Since the infectious agent of BSE is resistant to freezing, heating, pasteurization, and sterilization, the pathogen has been transmitted to humans. It is likely that meat-eating humans ingested contaminated cow flesh and the BSE prion evolved into Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The World Health Organization confirms the likelihood of this line of transmittance even though they and the beef industry still claim that the skeletal muscle associated with eatable beef is safe. Prions are concentrated in the brain, spine, lymph and nervous tissue and not the skeletal muscle but contamination in the slaughterhouses is documented and must be frequent if humans are contracting CJD and cows are continually being identified with BSE. It would seem that contamination of the food supply is inevitable when the volume of slaughtered cows is so high; the world meat production has quadrupled over the last 50 years and livestock now outnumber humans 3 to 1. Many officials calm public fears by citing the tracking and testing of cattle used as industry safety checks, but Maura Ricketts, a WHO specialist, said in a 2000 interview that it was almost impossible to trace where suspect meat or feed might have gone since mad cow disease was first identified.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease exist as glaring and definite examples of the consequences due to breaches in ethics and sanitation inherent in high volume agribusiness. Stanley Prusiner has not remained silent on the politics surrounding this disease and has ridiculed the USDA for not taking appropriate measures. Meanwhile in a statement released on December 23rd by Terry Stokes, Chief Executive Officer, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, he urges “Consumers should continue to eat beef with confidence.” The beef farmers should be held responsible for the introduction and propagation of this serious threat to human health. Unfortunately, those who should hold these people responsible, the consumer, are generally uneducated about this food safety issue. When will the general public be educated enough on the hidden and disgusting realities of factory farming to stop this cycle of production and consumption that bolsters this disease?