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Mad Cows, sick sheep, and greedy people

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 21, 2001


As someone who gave up eating farm animals more than a decade ago, the news coming from Europe is far from surprising. Having grown accustomed to the hand wringing associated over Mad Cow disease, the current outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease seems like a natural progression. After all, what do you expect from animals forced to live in crowded, substandard conditions.

Mad Cow disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, is as we have seen a horrific neurodegenerative condition resulting in incurable dementia and a complete loss of motor control. Originally recognized in sheep, the affliction was known as scrapie because the animals would "scrape" themselves against a fence in order to remain upright. Other symptoms were irritability and manic behavior. The disease jumped the species barrier when factory farmers decided to play Frankenstein and feed rendered sheep carcasses to cattle.

The practice of feeding cattle the processed remains of other livestock is common in America. For example, approximately 800 million pounds of slaughterhouse remains were fed to US beef and dairy cows in 1989, as an inexpensive protein supplement. forcing cows and other livestock to eat animal remains makes natural herbivores into carnivorous omnivores, often requiring cannibalism at feeding time.

Unless the US government acts swiftly to outlaw this practice, a major outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in the US is inevitable. If that is not adequately terrifying, the species barrier between cows and the people who eat them can be crossed as well. Mad People disease, officially known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, is caused by consuming diseased flesh, and literally eats holes in the brains of its victims.

The Mad Cow scare has already reached the United States, the American Red Cross announced that it will no longer accept blood donations from people who spent a total of 6 months or more in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands. So not only are bad farming practices taking it's told on meat eaters it is also contributing to a blood shortage in America.

Far from lethal, but causing an equal amount of panic, is Foot-and-mouth disease(FMD.) A highly infectious disease, FMD is spread by direct or indirect contact with infected animals. Infected animals begin by excreting the virus a few days before signs of the disease develop, with vesicles or blisters in the mouth or on the feet. Affected animals lose condition and secondary bacterial infections may prolong convalescence.

The most serious effects of the disease however are seen in dairy cattle. Loss of milk yield, abortion, sterility, chronic mastitis, and chronic lameness are commonplace. FMD has no implications for the human food chain. It should be noted however that humans can contract a mild form of FMD which is evidenced by influenza type symptoms and blisters.

Endemic in parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America there is no cure for FMD. Although it usually runs its course in 2 or 3 weeks after which the great majority of animals recover naturally, the justification of the slaughter policy is that widespread disease throughout the country would be economically disastrous. As if killing hundred of thousands healthy animals isn't a disaster in it's own right.

Let's face it folks modern agriculture and the agencies that regulate the industry are completely out of control. Long recognized as advocates of unsound and anti-environmental policies, not only do they foster unhealthy eating habits, they also embrace technology over natural processes. Biodiversity has been replaced with monoculture prone to disease, and dependent on herbicides, pesticides, hormones, genetic engineering. Government subsidies ensure the frankenfood makes it to the market. This brave new world is decidedly unappetizing.

Most of my vegan/vegetarian friends have little compassion for those affected by the current turn of events. I myself have compassion only for the animals being slaughtered so that governments can wage a public relations battle and protect the economic interests of those profiting from the exploitation of other species. Personally I have always thought it fitting for livestock to take a few humans with them. As they say in India, Karma is a bitch.

The best way for Americans to prevent the crisis in the United Kingdom and Europe from repeating itself here in the states. Is to stop eating animals, and if they can not find it in themselves to switch to a diet of compassion, then I suggest that every meat eater call their congressional representative and ask them to introduce legislation prohibiting the macabre practice of feeding herbivores other herbivores. It's the least they can do.

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