Today is Memorial Day. Tomorrow (June 1st), USDA is going
to initiate its long awaited 18-month program of "intensified"
testing for Mad Cow Disease (BSE or bovine spongiform encephalopathy).
In an oxymoronic strategy, USDA has spent the five months since the
first case of BSE was confirmed in the U.S. on a spin campaign touting
the safety of our beef while (1) it has prohibited voluntary testing
that exceeds its minimalist health standards, and (2) the head of USDA
has publicly acknowledged that "she
is expecting more cases of mad cow disease to be found in the United
States, as meat inspection systems are improved."
First, let's take a look at what USDA's "intensified"
testing amounts to.
one-time, intensive program, which kicks off Tuesday, aims to test at
least 220,000 animals nationwide over the next 12 to 18 months."
This compares with about 20,000 animals per year that were tested in
the last two or three years (e.g.. 30,000 in 18 months), so represents
about a seven-fold increase which does indeed look dramatic.
But let us broaden the perspective just a bit. The U.S. slaughters
about 35 million cattle per year, or about 52 million in 18 months.
That means that we formerly tested about 0.06% of the animals that we
slaughtered in the past. At the "intensified level", we will
be testing about 0.4% of the animals slaughtered!
That is less than one-half of one percent! (Published
references to nearly 1% apparently compared 18 month figures with 12
month figures without accounting for the difference.)
If this fails to make you feel comfortable and confident with USDA's
efforts to protect your health, then join the club.
I do agree with USDA Secretary Ann Veneman on one thing,
Even as anemic as it is, the increased level of testing is going to
test more cattle over the next 18 months than all of the cattle that
have been tested on the North American continent up to this time
combined. More Mad Cows will be found!
The only question is when, and that is a question that just begs for
a betting pool.
Those wishing to place a wager can no doubt be accommodated at just
about any casino. As RangeBiome.org is not a casino, we are doing the
next best thing with this web poll.
Cast your vote for when that you think the next U.S. Mad Cow will be
found. My personal guestimate is August, 2004.